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No Child Left Behind reform may not come before school year, again

Published: Thursday, July 21 2011 11:08 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — As the months pass on before the start of the next school year, there is less hope of the White House coming to a decision about revamping the No Child Left Behind Act, something President Obama has told Congress he wants to have happen by that time.

As it stands, 100 percent of students in all 100,000 schools across the U.S. need to test proficient in English and math to comply with the law — something most educators say is impossible to do. And as it gets closer to this time, more and more students are required to be proficient to meet the 2014 goal. For instance, in Utah this year 89 percent of students in grades 3-8 need to test proficient in English language arts and by next year 95 percent need to be proficient to make adequately yearly progress, according to the State Office of Education. Schools who do not meet this goal are labeled as failing, and Title I schools who do not meet this goal face sanctions like being obligated to offer free tutoring to all students, or if they repeatedly miss their goals, a possible wholesale replacement of staff.

Secretary of Education has already predicted that 80 percent of schools will not make their goals this year, and if Congress does not act soon to change the law, Duncan said he will use his authority to start granting waivers to states to not meet their proficiency goals himself.

Last week, Education Weekly predicted that states will have to oblige to a series of other goals if they want be waived this year. They predict states will have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments, propose their own accountability systems that would measure growth and establish new performance goals and adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

But some are against a short-fix like U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who was quoted by Education Weekly last month as saying that waivers are "an escape route" and that reauthorization of the act "is essential."

The Baltimore Sun wrote an op-ed piece on the current situation on Monday, agreeing that if Congress cannot come up with a new plan of action, waivers should be put in place but also stating that "Congress needs to own up to its mistakes in drafting this law, especially its emphasis on punishing schools labeled as failures and its reliance on a narrow array of test results as the sole measure of progress."

"The law's original goal of holding underperforming schools accountable has become a ticking time bomb that threatens to punish school districts across the country," the paper wrote.

And some states have set out on their own to address this unreachable goal, reported The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

South Dakota, Montana and Idaho recently told federal officials they would disregard key aspects of the law," the article states. "Wisconsin officials plan to ask the U.S. Department of Education if they can substitute a state-developed accountability policy in place of the law, and Tennessee is considering a similar move."

And Utah has, for the first time, asked for a one-year waiver of this year's proficiency goal, citing the recent focus the state has given to implement a state-led, nationwide common curriculum, said John Jesse, state director of assessment and accountability. The Utah State Office of Education has asked to meet the last goal set by the state, and Jesse believes the federal government will grant this request in the next couple of weeks.

The No Child Left Behind Act has been up for renewal since 2007, The Wall Street Journal article explains, adding a quote from Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who said "either Congress does not have the political will or this is not a priority for the administration. Either way, we are bearing the burden of their inaction."

On Friday, several Oregonians met with their U.S. representative who is part of the committee charged to rewrite the law, and came up with suggestions on how to improve it, reported The Oregonian last week.

These included making effective teaching the central focus, modifying the test requirements so results will help improve what happens in the classroom and ending "the punitive nature of the law."

Bloomberg Businessweek laid out what could happen to schools if no waivers or reform is decided upon in an article earlier this month, saying that already cash-strapped schools who have been labeled as failing will be looking at more cuts from the federal government.

"As budgets grow leaner, many school districts are more concerned about keeping their doors open than instituting reform," the article states. "More than 220,000 teachers and other educators could lose their jobs in the 2011-12 school year, according to the American Association of School Administrators. The bottom line: About 80 percent of schools could lose federal funding in 2014 unless the No Child act is changed or the Administration grants waivers."

EMAIL: slenz@desnews.com

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