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Educators report progress, concerns in new report

WASHINGTON—Students are doing better on state verbal and math tests required under the No Child Left Behind Act, and the gaps between white and minority students are narrowing. But educators worry about a lack of money and skilled teachers in the future, according to a new nationwide survey released Wednesday.

Their greatest worry is that they won't be able to fix the underperforming schools the act has identified, according to the study, which surveyed educators in 49 states and 314 school districts.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which President Bush signed in 2002, is "very strong in identifying problems in schools, but very weak in providing the resources to address those problems," said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit public-education advocacy group that sponsored the report.

"The long-term success of the law is at risk unless the federal government can offer more support," Jennings said.

Ray Simon, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, disagreed sharply.

"The perpetual cry for more money, once again echoed in this report, simply does not comport with the facts," Simon said. He cited a $13.8 billion increase in federal education spending since Bush took office in 2000.

The No Child Left Behind Act is intended to get all students' performances up to grade level by 2014. It requires schools to meet annually escalating targets for student test scores in reading and math and to close performance gaps among different groups. It identifies failing schools based on the results. Students attending schools identified as failing for two years in a row may transfer to different schools, and school systems must make special efforts to fix failing schools.

The good news, according to the report, is that nearly three-quarters of school officials surveyed said their schools' standard skills scores improved in 2004. In 21 states, the gaps between white and ethnic minority achievement scores narrowed. The gaps between low-income and other students also shrank.

According to the school officials surveyed, the improvements are mainly due to teaching that's more focused on the skills the exams test, better-qualified teachers and more attention to low-achieving students.

But educators in 45 states said they lacked enough teachers to implement the law fully, especially when it came to boosting achievement at low-performing schools. To date, 6,000 schools nationwide have been identified as underperforming. Finding qualified teachers to work in them is a problem in 31 states, state officials said.

Only 1 percent of the students who are eligible to transfer from failing schools make the switch, educators estimated.

A majority of educators surveyed want the act's standards modified for students with disabilities and those who are learning the English language.

The educators were pessimistic about money for failing schools. Officials in only 11 states said they had enough money from federal, state and local sources to treat failing schools.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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