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Article of Interest - No Child Left Behind

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Bridges4Kids LogoFeds: No Child Left Behind Being Adjusted
Gongwer News Service, February 19, 2004
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The U.S. Department of Education has been hearing the same concerns that legislators are hearing about the effects of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and is making adjustments to administration of the law to meet those concerns, Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok told a joint meeting of the Michigan House and Senate Education Committees. But he also noted on Thursday that the standards schools are meeting-or in some cases not meeting-are set by the state, not by his department.

Democrats from both chambers preceded the meeting with a press conference airing their concerns about the federal act, which they said is unfairly labeling schools as failing and not providing the funds to help those schools succeed.

But some of the concerns raised in the press conference either should have been resolved or may soon be resolved by policy changes in Washington, D.C., Mr. Hickok said. "We're learning how to make this law work better," Mr. Hickok said. "No Child Left Behind is a tough law; it is complex, it is challenging, it is nuanced. But I have never met anyone yet who disagreed with the goals of the law."

There will not likely be any changes to the statute, Mr. Hickok said, as few congressional members have indicated a willingness to open up the law only two years after it was adopted.

He announced at the meeting a new policy the federal department is developing to address use of scores of limited English proficiency students in calculating adequate yearly progress. The goal of the new policy will be to balance the need to hold schools accountable for the progress of limited English students while also realizing they are not likely to do well on tests written in a language they cannot yet read.

Rep. Andy Meisner (D-Ferndale) noted at the press conference that 11 schools in the state did not meet adequate yearly progress standards solely because of the scores of those students who could not speak English well.

While Mr. Meisner and others agreed that limited English proficiency students should not be discounted simply because they cannot speak the language of the majority, those at the press conference argued their language skills should be acknowledged in determining how their score will count against the school.

Carl Territo, superintendent of Utica Public Schools, argued that students with limited English skills and those with developmental disabilities should have their scores weighted in some way. "An eighth grade student at a sixth grade level is not going to meet AYP," he said. "Let's set up different rules for these subgroups."

Mr. Hickok said rules implemented in the fall made some of the desired changes with regard to developmentally disabled children, and he said similar changes would be coming for those with limited English proficiency.

But he said the new rules would not likely change the AYP findings for districts made under the current rules, as Rep. Doug Spade (D-Adrian) had requested. "The bigger concern I have is across the country allowing ourselves to have a level of mediocrity," Mr. Hickok said. "In the long run we need to expect more of our kids and teachers. ...The goal is to recognize where we are and do something about it."

The department is also trying to find ways to help states meet the highly qualified teacher requirements for those already in the classroom. "There's got to be some way to get them highly qualified without putting them through a battery of tests and new classes," he said.

And Mr. Hickok said the department is also looking at issues being raised by schools with high turnover rates that they are being held accountable for students who may have just moved into the school.

But he said there is little the federal government can do about students who do not show up to school. "I know of no federal law that can guarantee parents doing their jobs," he said. "That doesn't mean we can ignore the problem (and not count those students)."

Rep. Virgil Smith (D-Detroit) argued that attitude is unfair to schools. "It hurts the children who do attend," he said.

Mr. Hickok also took issue with complaints that the law labels those schools not meeting AYP as failing schools. "The law does not talk about failing schools," he said. "It doesn't mean it's a failing school. It means it's a school that's got to do better."

"No Child Left Behind focuses on penalizing our schools," said Rep. Paul Gieleghem (D-Clinton Township). "We need to be focused on lifting up our schools."

"What matters in my opinion is not the schools being labeled but the kids in the schools," Mr. Hickok said.

And he said Michigan should be praised for having more schools with more years of not having met AYP. "Michigan's kind of the exception because they have been doing accountability for awhile," he said. "A lot of times it's information you don't want to hear. You don't want to hear about the bad test scores. But it's better not to ignore the problem."

Mr. Hickok said the changes that will be mandated for those schools will represent a significant shift in educational philosophy. "Most schools have never gone through any of those kinds of changes," he said. "That's one of the problems with public education: we continue to go down the wrong road. ...If over time the school is not making progress, common sense says something has to change."

Mr. Hickok also noted that the law does not mandate what happens in the schools that are not meeting AYP, it simply requires some change.

Mr. Hickok also questioned the arguments that the program is not sufficiently funded.

"No Child Left Behind has been a disaster for our schools because No Child Left Behind left the money behind," said Rep. Paul Gieleghem (D-Clinton Township).

Mr. Hickok said federal funding for education has in fact increased faster than the rate of inflation and in President George W. Bush's proposed budget would outweigh defense spending. He said the law also provides additional funding, not reductions, for those schools not having met AYP for multiple years.

He argued states and school districts should look at how best to use the funds they have, not how to obtain more funding. "I've never met a school board member or a state school chief who said, 'No more money. We have enough,'" he said, noting that he was once a state school chief.

"What I'm asking is that we talk differently about school resources," he said. "You can never spend enough, but what are you getting for your spending?"

But given the concerns over funding, labels and simply the question of federal intervention in schools, Mr. Hickok said he was not surprised by the few states either opting out of the program or limiting their participation. "It's understandable to state officials to cast somewhat of a wary eye," he said. "But in the end we'd like to think we'll be partners in the bill."

    

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