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Group blasts school rating measures

Florida's accountability system and No Child Left Behind give conflicting assessments.

By MATTHEW WAITE
Published May 28, 2004

A national education advocacy group was in the Tampa Bay area Thursday to criticize state and federal accountability systems that give schools A grades before labeling them as failures.

Communities for Quality Education, backed by the National Education Association teachers union, criticized Gov. Jeb Bush's state accountability system and President George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act for giving polar-opposite assessments of public schools.

"It's just an inconsistency that calls out for leadership," said CQE spokesman Reggie Johnson.

Under the governor's plan last year, almost as many Florida schools received A grades as B's through F's combined. But under No Child, more than 80 percent of the schools failed to meet federal standards.

Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Gov. Bush, called the group's criticisms "rhetoric." He said the governor knew the two accountability standards would conflict, but felt they would challenge schools to improve education for minority students.

"Florida refused to lower our accountability standards, unlike a lot of other states," DiPietre said. "We're confident our schools will be up to the challenge."

Though backed by the NEA, which supports many Democratic candidates, Johnson insisted his group is not a political organization. He said its aim is to talk with parents, teachers and local school officials about creating a "policy alternative" to No Child.

The federal act was passed by Congress with significant support from Democrats, including presidential candidate John Kerry. The law's goal is to have all children learning at grade level by 2014, but implementation has become a political issue.

Many groups, including CQE, support No Child's policy aims, but significant disagreement has erupted over the law's reliance on standardized tests and the federal government's role in local education. Critics contend that calling a school "failing" stigmatizes students, and they say requirements to provide tutoring or taking students out of the schools represent an "unfunded mandate."

"There has to be a better way," Johnson said.

The first stop on CQE's national tour is Florida - a battleground state in this fall's presidential election. All five events held by the group were in the swing-voter rich Interstate 4 corridor, including stops in Tampa, Orlando, Melbourne and Daytona Beach.

[Last modified May 28, 2004, 01:00:27]


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