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NCLB Outrages

Task Force Gives No Child Failing Marks in Many Areas

ORONO - The federal No Child Left Behind law could leave the state behind unless significant changes are enacted, according to the findings of a state task force. The Task Force on No Child Left Behind was formed by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins a year ago in response to numerous concerns and complaints levied by Maine educators about the federal mandate. The group presented its findings to the two senators at the University of Maine on Wednesday.

Task force co-chairmen Leo Martin, a former state commissioner of education, and Anne Pooler, associate dean of education at the University of Maine, said the panel found 26 areas that needed to be addressed to make No Child work in Maine.

The recommendations center on the law's requirements for annual testing and accountability, reading and English proficiency, special education, teacher quality and funding.

Collins and Snowe commended the task force for its yearlong study and pledged to work together to ensure that the recommendations are addressed at the federal level. The senators said they would deliver the report to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings once they have digested its contents. They also pledged to work to change the law when it comes up for reauthorization in 2006.

"We have a number of concerns about the No Child Left Behind Law," said Snowe. While acknowledging that everyone supports the goal of closing the "achievement gap," she said NCLB created "unintended consequences" for the state's educators.

Collins noted that the task force report "sorts out" the confusion between No Child and the state's academic standards, known as Maine Learning Results. She said the report focused on areas of concern that need to be addressed in the future.

"The message is that the law at the federal level ... needs to be made more flexible and it needs to be more realistic," said Collins.

Many aspects of the federal law were designed to improve the educational situation and opportunities for the nation's urban school districts. Maine, as a primarily rural state, has encountered many instances where the provisions simply do not make sense, said Collins.

No Child was designed to help states achieve academic proficiency for all students. But critics have charged that because the law does not differentiate between mainstream and special education students, it will be difficult to bring students with learning disabilities to the same level as those who don't have such handicaps.

The task force found it was "unrealistic" to expect all students to achieve the proficiency levels required by the law. They found that the demands set by both No Child and Maine Learning Results place "an unfair and unrealistic burden on the student, the teacher and school system."

While the federal law permits states to enact their own methods to improve student achievement, one component requires that students throughout the country be given a national assessment test in order for the federal government to track their progress.

When questioned by a reporter whether there were concerns in Washington about the federal government usurping local control of education, Collins replied, "I don't think there is any interest in having the federal government set the standards for every state."

There also is the question of money. The senators noted that passage of the law in 2001 had resulted in the state's share of federal education dollars rising from $58 million before its enactment to $98 million this year.

But the task force still questioned whether funding was sufficient to meet the demands placed on the state and the panel recommends an analysis by the federal General Accounting Office to determine the cost of implementing all aspects of the law. The task force further states that if funding is inadequate No Child should be put on hold until Congress can appropriate the funds required.

— Walter Griffin
Bangor Daily News


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