Knocking on Your Door

By Jack Jennings

As the new school year opens, there are signs that something is different. In scores of school districts, some poor students are opting -- as a matter of right -- to transfer to another public school because the one they attended is labeled "failing."

Some parents are demanding to know -- again as a matter of right -- the qualifications of the teachers in their children's schools. Paraprofessionals are being told that they must finish two years of college within a few years or pass a rigorous test to keep their jobs. Some applicants for teaching positions are being turned away because they are not state certified.

Private companies, religious institutions, and public agencies are preparing to receive federal money from failing public schools, at the option of parents, to be used for after-school tutorial and supplemental services for their children.

All these changes are the result of the No Child Left Behind Act, signed in January by President Bush. The law has surprised many superintendents, principals, and school board members who did not realize the extent of the new federal requirements.

This act does indeed represent a broader and stronger federal role in elementary and secondary education. The federal government is putting more pressure on states and local school districts to raise student academic achievement, especially as measured by test scores. It is also demanding that schools eliminate achievement gaps between different racial, ethnic, income, and disability groups of students. Pressure is also being brought to bear on states and school districts to upgrade the qualifications of teachers and paraprofessionals. 

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