Excerpted from The New York Times, June 8, 2007

States Found to Vary Widely on Education


cademic standards vary so drastically from state to state that a fourth grader judged proficient in reading in Mississippi or Tennessee would fall far short of that mark in Massachusetts and South Carolina, the United States Department of Education said yesterday in a report that, for the first time, measured the extent of the differences.

The wide variation raises questions about whether the federal No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature education initiative, which is up for renewal this year, has allowed a patchwork of educational inequities around the country, with no common yardstick to determine whether schoolchildren are learning enough.

The law requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014 in reading and math and creates sanctions for failure. But in a bow to states’ rights it lets each state set its own standards and choose its own tests.

The report provides ammunition for critics who say that one national standard is needed. “Parents and communities in too many states are being told not to worry, all is well, when their students are far behind,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation who served in the Education Department during Mr. Bush’s first term.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement, “This report offers sobering news that serious work remains to ensure that our schools are teaching students to the highest possible standards.” Still, in a conference call with reporters, she said it was up to the states, not the federal government, to raise standards.

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