Archive » February 16, 2012
Waiving progress with No Child Left Behind
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
It may be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The White House recently released 10 of 11 states requesting waivers from the punitive requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). California was not one of them.
Wendy Shelton, Director of Communication for the Santa Barbara Board of Education, was never in on the decision. But from what has trickled down to her offices, she says, it is her belief that California did not request a waiver for primarily two reasons.
The first was a feeling that it was simply a matter of trading one set of onerous and unrealistic requirements for another.
The second, simpler reason is that the waiver process is both very complicated and expensive. “The state just couldn’t afford it,” she said.
“California has rejected No Child Left Behind as a broken system that has not worked for our schools or our students. While our state continues to weigh its options regarding a waiver, this much is clear: one top-down decade is enough,”
The NCLB, long flaunted as President George W. Bush’s greatest accomplishment, has as a main objective to raise every child in the nation, whether non-English speaking, learning disabled, average or brilliant to the level of “proficient” in English and math by 2014.
States were allowed to choose both the definition of “proficient” and the method used to determine compliance, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School principal Mark Swanitz recently explained to parents. The state uses the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) to determine compliance.
Given at approximately halfway through students’ sophomore year, the CAHSEE provides just a “slice” of overall student achievement, Swanitz said, noting there are pros and cons to whatever tool is used to measure compliance. The CAHSEE is a good choice in that it is a high-stakes test for students, said Swanitz. To graduate, students must pass the exam. Swanitz also observed that since the inception of the CAHSEE, the school has ranked one of the highest in the county and there is a certain amount of Pirate pride in keeping there.
But before selecting the test and the score to be applied to NCLB goals, the state consulted professionals, said Swanitz. The suggestion was made that the state set a score lower than that required for graduation, presumably in light of the various sub-groups like those with learning disabilities, said Swanitz.
He thought the recommended number was in the 335 range, but wasn’t sure. A passing score for the CAHSEE is 350. The professional recommendation, however, was rejected. Instead, the state set a passing score for the purposes of NCLB at 380, said Swanitz with a shrug. “That makes it an extra challenge.”
Like most schools across the nation, Santa Ynez failed to meet the challenge and is now in Program Improvement category of the NCLB. The consensus seems to be that it is not the NCLB compliance date of 2014 that presents a difficulty for schools, as much as it is the unrealistic idea that 100% of students can achieve it.
“In the end, the targets are out of synch with the budgeting priorities of the same government that oversees them. As a result, schools are in a position to be labeled as failing when, like us, we are also considered one of the top schools in California,” said Turnbull.
Special education programs, for example, are funded at less than 50% of their actual costs, said Turnbull. It is the equation of annual budget cuts added to the yearly 10% rise in goals, each and every year, that has administrators believing that schools are being set up to fail.
In addition, states can negotiate directly with the federal Department of Education to set levels of proficiency (leaving an uneven national playing field). “The funding for education overall has decreased annually for the last 5 years (while accountability targets have increased),” Turnbull noted.
“California has rejected No Child Left Behind as a broken system that has not worked for our schools or our students,” said Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The law’s failures should prompt a thorough reassessment of the federal role in education, not merely the substitution of one set of inflexible requirements for another.”
Much like Race to the Top, said Turnbull, the waiver being offered states comes with too many strings attached. “I don’t believe California is planning to apply for a waiver in the future. Instead, they’ll wait out the revision of NCLB (whenever that actually happens in Congress), then evaluate new programs and requirements,” he said.
Given the current level of grid lock in Washington, however, no one is expecting that to happen anytime soon. Lois Capps said she would support a NCLB reauthorization if, after review, she believes it works for the state and the schools on the Central Coast.
“Ensuring all our kids have access to a high-quality education is the foundation for their success and for our country’s future. It is clear to me from my many meetings with Central Coast teachers, school administrators and parents that NCLB needs to provide more flexibility to our state and local school systems,” she said.
“Since the president’s announcement in September, 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have signaled their intent to seek flexibility from NCLB. The next deadline for requests is in Mid-February. States can also make requests later in the spring,” a State Department of Education press release reads. “Our schools are making great strides – even in a time of terrible budget choices. They deserve relief that does not require them to slow or reverse their progress with no assurance of stability for the long term,” said Torlakson.