New Rules Aimed at Highlighting, Improving Low Graduation Rates

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New federal rules made final yesterday will tighten enforcement of the No Child Left Behind law, including requiring schools nationwide to use a single formula to calculate high school graduation rates.

The administrative change was one of several the Bush administration has put in place in an effort to put a final stamp on the 2002 education law considered one of the president's most significant domestic initiatives. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, speaking yesterday after a visit to a high school in Columbia, S.C., said she took action because renewal of the law has stalled in Congress.

"We're still having school this year and next year," Spellings said. "And while I'm confident that the Congress will get this work done eventually, I think my responsibility is to make sure that these policies and these laws are in good shape when I leave the Department of Education."

In the most significant shift, states must begin using a single graduation-rate formula, which counts the percentage of ninth-graders who earn a diploma within four years, by 2011. Spellings said the uniformity is intended to shine a light on the nation's dropout problem and force schools to take steps to ensure that more students earn diplomas.

The new rules also require officials at low-performing schools to better inform parents about a key requirement of the law -- that certain children must be given an opportunity to participate in government-funded tutoring or the chance to transfer to a higher-performing school.

National Education Association officials, who have been critical of the federal law, said the administration should not tinker with regulations in its waning days.

"The next president of the United States and the next secretary of education deserve the right to work with the next Congress and leave his or her mark on federal education policy, not have their hands tied by ill-timed and piecemeal changes," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.

But the new rules earned praise from both sides of the aisle.

Melissa Wagoner, spokeswoman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said the changes would "allow schools to innovate while Congress works on new legislation to improve and strengthen the No Child Left Behind law."

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (Calif.), the top Republican on the House education committee, said the new rules would help parents with children in low-performing schools seek options.

"While hundreds of thousands of students have already been able to take advantage of these new choices, many more stand to benefit from the reforms outlined today," McKeon said.

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