The question has loomed for decades: what to do about the sorry state of public schools.

It’s a beast of a question.

And when the feds get involved, the “solution” can be monstrous.

An 1,100-page law called the No Child Left Behind Act was signed by President George W. Bush in January. In a nutshell, it calls for standards that must be met by every student. Success is measured by standardized testing, which must reflect improvement over time.

Failure is also measured. In fact, schools can fail in 135 ways — and not without consequences.

Penalties include having to transfer students, hire tutors, replace staff or write new learning plans. Schools also could lose federal funding or face a takeover by the state.

The new law has spurred an outcry across the country from education leaders. They object to the tyranny of a federal law that takes away local control. They are angry that the law may supersede state-level standards such as Maine Learning Results. And they fear the poor track record of Congress paying for federal mandates. Already, Maine’s share to implement the new law has shrunk from an authorized $190 million to a budgeted $100 million.

The state’s deputy education commissioner, Judy Lucarelli, called the No Child Left Behind Act “appalling” and “burdensome.”

We agree.

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but this law strips states of authority and hamstrings schools with demands that are not likely to be fully funded, ever.

States – and local taxpayers — already are burdened by the chronic under funding of the special education act of 1975.

And we wonder: Is more standardized testing the answer?

We doubt that forcing educators to appease demands for better test scores will fix the country’s outdated schooling system.

We ought to take a good portion of the $26 billion authorized for the upgrade and study the system itself. Are the physical and intellectual structures of institutions really conducive to learning? What are the alternatives?

Let’s find out.

And let’s look at the scientific evidence revealing that people learn in many different ways, using many types of intelligences.

Most schools offer alternative programs for “at-risk” kids. But they might not reach that verge-of-failure stage if teaching methods were tailored to learning styles.

That would be true school reform.

Veterans Day,

by the numbers
Number of military veterans in the United States: 25 million

Members of the American Legion: 2.8 million

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars: 1.5 million

Current size of active-duty force: 1.35 million

Number of reserves that could be mobilized for an invasion of Iraq: 300,000

Years since the VFW was created: 100

Years since Veterans Day was established (as Armistice Day): 84

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