Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disagreement over NCLB . . .

My June 12th post shared information about the potential for Secretary Duncan to waive some of the NCLB requirements in exchange for implementing other programs favored by him and the department. There has been much conversation in the blog world about his authority to do this and push back from legislators like the chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Representative Kline. He questions the secretary’s authority to grant waivers and has asked him for more specific information on what the waivers would be and in exchange for what. In this Education Week article we find that he was not pleased with the vague response from the department.

In a New York Times article yesterday we get a little more clarity from what some state school chiefs see as the “trade-off” for waivers to the requirement that all students meet standard in reading and math by 2014 and to relaxing the requirement that districts identify and address schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress. These school chiefs are saying that these waivers are possible for states that propose their own accountability rules and ways to intervene in under performing schools. This information comes from conversations they have had with the secretary so it is far from policy. If what they are saying is accurate, this is something that we can and should support.

The issue of reauthorization has become a big one for many states seeing NCLB as a failure and the AYP requirements as counterproductive. The school chiefs in Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota have indicated that their states will not follow the law and others will be officially asking for waivers. You can read about the department's response and issues here and here.  The best solution I have seen recommended thus far would be a policy of nonenforcement  that would freeze annual targets at current levels, eliminating the AYP progression and identification of more failing schools.

Why care and follow this? Schools that do not meet AYP go through a progression of four intervention steps with Step 4 having at least one of the following actions in the restructuring plan.

• Replace school staff, which may include the school principal, who are relevant to the school’s inability to meet standards.
• Enter into a contract with an outside entity with a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the schools.
• Implement other restructuring activities that are consistent with the principles of restructuring.

We currently have two schools in Step 3 who will likely be in Step 4 when the announcements are made in August following release of last spring’s state assessment results. I use likely because every three years the benchmark is raised for progress towards the 2014, 100% requirement and this is the year for the benchmark to move.

What relieves us from the above sanctions is that they are only imposed on Title 1 schools and our schools at Step 3 are not Title 1. You can read about the sanctions for each step on the OSPI site.

Last year five of our nine schools did not meet AYP, again with the likelihood that this could increase with the 2011 results. Should our schools currently at Step 3 be subjected to the potential Step 4 sanctions? Should we have five schools labeled as failing because of the NCLB requirement for progress towards 100% by 2014? I say no to each question. That is one reason why we need the law to change and to change as the President and Secretary want by the start of the next school year. Our schools and others across the country are not failing. Will that happen? No, it doesn’t appear likely. I support the need for accountability and increased achievement, but I cannot support the structures of NCLB currently used to label schools and school districts as failing.

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