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NCLB Outrages

School officials berate federal law's standards

By Sara Loeb

State Superintendent of Education Randy Dunn asked area school board members their thoughts on the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

What he got was a bunch of thumbs-down signs from school officials attending the fall meeting of the Illinois Association of School Board's North Cook Division.

Dunn had gathered with representatives from 40 elementary and high school districts from the north and northwest suburbs Sept. 29. They'd been asked to talk about the No Child Left Behind Act with colleagues seated at their tables and then present their views to Dunn.

He'd asked the approximately 120 school superintendents and board members in the audience to consider whether they like the federal law -- designed to make school districts more accountable for the achievement of all students -- to stay as is, to change or be dropped when it needs reauthorization in 2007.

"Any verbal comments?" asked a laughing Phil Pritzker, who chairs the division and serves on the board for Wheeling School District 21.

Brenda Murphy, Board President of Des Plaines School District 62, summed up her table's discussion, saying the federal mandate fails to consider individual progress.

"Within our districts, we know our students and we were working on continual improvement well before this was imposed on us by the federal government," she said. "We feel we're doing a good job without having these extra hoops to jump through ... It'd be much more reasonable to have a program that looks at individual improvement."

Board members seated at another table shared similar views, with some saying the most realistic option for local and state officials is to ask for changes in the federal and others arguing the law needs to go.

"The federal government doesn't have any business in local schools," said Donna Rose Torf, vice president of Northfield High School District 225.

Also on the agenda to discuss during the meeting were two other issues: What suggestions board members have for improving their relationship and interactions with the state board and how having a well-run local board matters for student achievement.

Taking in the down-turned thumbs and comments, Dunn told the group he agrees No Child Left Behind should look at the growth of individual students' abilities, not whether a whole group is meeting rigid goals.

Legislators seem receptive to such suggestions, Dunn said.

"We're caught in a system that is status-based, and you either hit the bar or you don't," he said. "There's a willingness to look at this, and the next version might be something like Success for All Children" to reflect the new focus on individual growth, he added.

Before Dunn heard officials' comments on the No Child Left Behind Act, he told the group he hopes to tackle more substantial issues, such as streamlining the now-complex process for teacher certification and restructuring school districts that are facing sanctions because they haven't made Annual Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

He'd also like to focus on what he termed the state's 20 to 25 "problem child" districts that consume 80 percent of the district's oversight time.

— Sara Loeb
Pioneer Press


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