Get Federal Government Off Backs of Schools
Ohanian Comment: The argument here is that since Virginia is already Standardista capital of the Union, why not give them an NCLB break.
Virginia school superintendents want to get the federal government off their backs.
They gathered in Richmond the other day to present their case to the General Assembly to get out from under the burdensome federal regulations that are strangling them in the name of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
It’s an old lament and they have once again made a sound case. In a nutshell, they say the federal requirements duplicate the more aggressive state accountability program.
But whether their request for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow the state to slip from the shackles of the federal regulations is anyone’s guess.
A request for a similar waiver last year was defeated in the House Education Committee. More delegates appear to favor the measure this time around.
Within the complicated federal law is a provision that allows states to seek a waiver if they already have a successful accountability system in place that resembles No Child Left Behind.
With the Standards of Learning program implemented in Virginia in the late 1990s and which became fully effective in the school year that ended last June, Virginia has such an accountability system.
“We have made great progress,” said Edgar B. Hatrick III, superintendent of Loudoun County public schools and president of the state superintendent’s group. “That is why (Virginia) should be allowed to stay the course rather than be destroyed by cumbersome and, in many cases, counterproductive federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.”
Hatrick pointed out that 84 percent of Virginia schools are now fully accredited based on SOL criteria, up from 2 percent when the program began in 1997.
Virginia’s SOL requirements exceed the national average for student pass rates. Other states, school leaders contend, have established artificially low pass rates to insulate their school systems from the federal requirements, which mandate a 100 percent pass rate by 2014.
That should present some idea of how unrealistic the federal education requirements are. A 100 percent pass rate for every student at every school? It’s a lofty goal, but it’s not going to happen.
More than a dozen states have rebelled against the education law, complaining that it imposes costly burdens without providing the money to carry them out.
According to the Virginia Education Association early last year, the state’s Department of Education would need $10.4 million in 2004 and 2005 just for data collection, reporting and analysis required by the federal act.
That leaves already cash-strapped localities and states in an even bigger economic pinch. It’s ludicrous to have to consider eliminating teacher positions to pay for the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
A report by Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project concluded the federal requirements are just plain impractical. Virginia is one of six states in the report, and Richmond is one of 10 school divisions profiled.
Richmond is a prime example of why such a monolithic system doesn’t work. As the report found, high-poverty urban school districts with high concentrations of minorities are disproportionately subject to the law’s sanctions. The law requires schools to meet benchmarks in at least 29 of 35 separate categories to make “adequate yearly progress.” Those goals also must be met by smaller student subgroups, including those with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for at least two consecutive years have to offer parents the opportunity to transfer their children to better-performing schools. Of the 34 such schools in Virginia in 2002-2003, 17 were in Richmond. But Richmond could only handle 24 percent of the transfer requests because of space constraints.
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While they had the attention of some members of the legislature, the superintendents also made a plea for higher teacher salaries, a subject that’s weighing on local school boards as they begin to get into the specifics of their budgets for next year.
In asking for full funding of the state’s share of basic education services, including teacher salaries, Prince Edward County Superintendent Margaret V. Blackmon said that Virginia’s average teacher salary last year was $2,809 below the national average even though the state ranks 10th nationally in per capita income.
“We therefore have the financial ability to pay our teachers better salaries,” she said.
Blackmon, who is president-elect of the superintendent’s group, said Virginia has lost ground in the past decade in teacher salaries. In 1990, for example, the state lagged only $423 behind the national average in teacher pay.
The Lynchburg School Board is particularly aware of lagging teacher salaries in recent years. In order to prevent additional losses of teachers to surrounding counties - or to higher paying positions in the private sector - the board has proposed 5 percent pay increases for teachers for the coming year.
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In the meantime, the House Education Committee should listen to complaints from the state superintendents and ask for the waiver to get the federal government off the backs of the state school systems.
It’s time to stop wasting money on record keeping and duplicative testing and let teachers teach. It’s past time to acknowledge that all children have different gifts and abilities. That’s the best way for the schools to keep from leaving any child behind.
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