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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoWA School Chiefs Lack Broad Authority for Reforms, UW Survey Finds
by Deborah Bach, July 28, 2003, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Associated Press
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A University of Washington study being released Monday suggests the goals of No Child Left Behind -- a sweeping educational reform that holds schools and districts accountable for student achievement -- will be difficult to meet unless school superintendents are given greater authority.

An advance copy of the report, obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, said superintendents' efforts at educational reform are frequently stymied by micromanaging school boards and inflexible teachers' unions.

Nine out of 10 superintendents, according to the report, said they need more authority to fix low-performing schools and help improve student achievement.

James Harvey, a co-author of the study and a senior fellow at the UW's Center on Reinventing Public Education, said superintendents are "whipsawed" by competing interests within their districts, making their jobs near impossible.

"Our major finding is that they have been set up for failure," he said. "The structure of the position virtually precludes them from doing what they have been asked to do. They don't control their own agenda."

The report stems from a survey of superintendents in the nation's 100 largest districts, who collectively oversee 6.5 million students.

It points to an "iron triangle" composed of school boards, unions and central office, which can act as a coalition to block change. Harvey said researchers heard many anecdotes about meddling school boards -- one in West Virginia, for example, had to approve every field trip taken by students.

The survey findings were "so startling," Harvey said, that researchers expanded their scope beyond an original list of 40 interviewees to ensure the feedback they received wasn't anomalous.

What they found, he said, was a widespread perception of an educational system driven by adults' demands, not children's educational needs.

"You never heard that in public," Harvey said. "The public discussion is all about students and achievement. The internal dynamics are mostly about adults and employment."

Harvey said the results point to urgent changes needed if the No Child Left Behind Act will succeed. Signed by President Bush last year, the law represents the largest increase of federal control over education in history and was designed to help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their peers.

Among other things, No Child Left Behind requires annual tests for grades three through eight, starting in 2005, and highly qualified teachers in every classroom. Schools that fail to improve over two consecutive years must offer students the choice to attend a successful school.

After three years, parents can get money for private tutoring for their children, and after five years, the school would be overhauled and reopened as a charter school, a state-run school or some other alternative.

Districts may also face sanctions including cuts in state aid, dismissal of the superintendent, a state takeover or other interventions. 

   

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