No Child Left Behind Being Adjusted
Gongwer News Service, February 19, 2004
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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
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
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
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
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
"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
Mr. Hickok also questioned the arguments that the program is not
"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
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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