Utah's schools chief has some advice for Congress: Dump some or all of No Child Left Behind, or change the rules to resemble the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students and other state initiatives.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington has drafted a position paper on the controversial federal law at the request of Utah's congressional delegation. The congressmen are gearing up for the law's expected reauthorization in 2008 or later, State Associate SuperintendentRay Timothy said.
"I think the best way for them to go is honor what states want," including ongoing assessment,clear standards and immediate help for struggling children, without federal intrusion, and "I hope they'll do more than tinker around the edges," Harrington said.
"It's not about what Utah says, it's about what good practice should demand. The law has been about public humiliation as opposed to standardizing good practice, and it should be about standardizing good practice."
Harrington is expected to present her draft to the State Board of Education this morning for fine-tuning. Timothy said the draft was created after talks with other state school chiefs in the Alliance for Excellent Education, which has been working on issues for the law's reauthorization.
But some question whether the position paper contains sound advice.
"I have concerns that the process of holding schools accountable and ensuring that all children have access and (the state sees) equitable outcomes among all students and all student groups is somehow going to be lost in this process," said Andrea Rorrer, University of Utah assistant professor in educational leadership and policy and director of the Utah Education Policy Center. She calls the law a starting point for accountability that the state should build upon.
No Child Left Behind seeks to have all children, regardless of race, income, disability or knowledge of English, reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. Utah receives more than $100 million, much of it for students in low-income neighborhoods, to meet the goal.
Utah has called the law an intrusion on state education rights. Last year, the Utah Legislature passed a law requiring schools here to focus on state not federal education goals.
Harrington and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings since have had a meeting described as cordial and productive. But Utah lost its bid to participate in a pilot for measuring growth in student achievement.
State school chiefs are calling for a summit with Spellings or President Bush to discuss their frustrations with the law, states Harrington's letter contained in the State Board of Education's meeting packet. Congress also is doing a one-year road trip to receive feedback on the law.
At the request of Utah's congressional delegation, who Harrington said are concerned Utah's growth model wasn't approved and about "the shrinking federal dollar" to support NCLB, Harrington said she drafted the May 9 position paper. She gave it to state legislative leaders; the governor; Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who carried anti-NCLB legislation; and state superintendents nationwide, her letter states. Timothy expects the state will seek input from district superintendents.
Harrington suggests several actions, including turning the law back to the 1990s before federal "interference" in accountability, requiring states only have Legislature-approved accountability plans or just report student test scores by group and graduation rates, and turning the U.S. Department of Education into a research group.
She details two other plans one renaming the law "Every Child a Graduate" and the other, fixing the existing law whose elements contain striking resemblance to U-PASS, including setting state standards, testing to measure academic growth and allowing states to lump test scores of groups together for accountability purposes, rather than making judgments on each group's test scores.
Other proposals include testing students with disabilities on their intellectual level; funding to help struggling students in any school, not just those serving low-income children; and considering teachers highly qualified if they have degrees related to what they're teaching, rather than a degree in each subject taught. They also include some state initiatives, including full-day kindergarten, plus differentiated pay for teachers with specialized training and publicly funded preschool.
"The (current) law is limited in flexibility. It also tends to take away control from the states," Timothy said. Utah's draft would allow educational leaders to "look at what the challenges are in our own states, and allow us to then make the decisions we need to get us to that ultimate goal."
Timothy has no doubt states would comply with the law on their own in this new day of accountability.
But states for 40 years were using Title I funds with relatively little accountability. A national study found the funds were not being used effectively and children were not more successful in school, said Shauna Carl, Salt Lake City School District executive director for learning services.
The 2001 No Child Left Behind law aimed to address that through highly qualified teacher rules, public reports on each school's progress toward its goals, and for Title I schools, sanctions leading up to state takeovers.
The sanctions are harsh, implemented based on a single test and create "great discomfort," Carl said.
"But," she adds, "if we dump it and start over, I'm not sure what we're going back to. And if every state has their standards, I'm not sure what we're doing as a nation in this international world."
Rorrer suggests studying the effects of the law so far, and fine tuning areas of weakness rather than new initiatives. Carl agrees."I don't see it as a retrenchment effort, and I do believe it's worth the work," Carl said. "Because I talk to other people across the United States in other curriculum areas, and leadership positions, and one of the things is, it may be an uncomfortable law, but we are seeing the rules and the regulations make a difference for kids where we haven't been making a difference before."