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NCLB Outrages

Utah Republican to take on NCLB law

By Elisabeth Nardi

Rep. David Cox has submitted titles for two bills that as of yet have no text.

Cox said he's not yet ready to discuss details beyond saying he may abandon the more radical measure if longtime NCLB opponent Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, introduces a bill calling for the state to withdraw from NCLB.

"No Child Left Behind sounds good, but in my mind it should be called 40 ways to lose your school . . . 40 ways to fail," Cox said.

Dayton said she will decide soon whether to challenge NCLB in a bill, but regardless of what she decides, she supports Cox's intention to sponsor legislation asking Congress to repeal the four-year-old law.

That's not surprising considering that Dayton successfully sponsored a bill passed during a 2005 special legislative session that instructs school districts to prioritize the state's methods for assessing student progress over those set forth by NCLB.

The state's defiance against the law may be one reason the U.S. Department of Education has not granted Utah's request for NCLB waivers when other states have had theirs granted.
Cox said NCLB is detrimental for several reasons, but the gravest are that it compares test scores from one year's students to those of the next year's students, and essentially takes away the state's right to govern its school boards.

Utah is not the only state frustrated by NCLB, added Dayton. Every state has demonstrated at least one form of resistance to the law either by ignoring it, asking for waivers, filing lawsuits or proposing alternative bills.

"A total of 50 states are following Utah's lead in resistance to No Child Left Behind so obviously something has to be done," she said.

It's difficult for states to opt out of NCLB because by doing so, they forfeit federal funds for education. The federal government is responsible for 8 percent of funding for schools, which isn't enough for it to have carte blanche over education mandates, Cox said.

But Kim Burningham, Utah Board of Education chairman, said the potential loss of funding could total more than $100 million for Utah, and a loss of that much money concerns him.

The board and the Utah Office of Education still are trying to find solutions that would work with NCLB, he said.

"We are working very hard . . . there have been some changes in NCLB, some of those changes are happening, but very slowly," he said.

They're happening too slowly for Cox, who said subjects such as art, history and physical education are being de-emphasized because they are not tested.

And tweaking the law, he fears, won't ever make NCLB powerless.

"People say lets just take the teeth out of [NCLB], you can do that but it will still be a tiger - toothless or not it has claws," he said. "It's going to get us at some point and it's going to ruin public education."

No Child Left Behind in Utah

NCLB, passed in 2001, holds schools accountable for the performance of all students by tracking standardized-test scores according to race and ethnicity, socioeconomic level, English proficiency and special education status. The law requires schools to progress toward the goal of 100 percent student proficiency in language arts and math by 2014.

Schools that collect federal Title I money because they have large populations of economically disadvantaged students face sanctions if they miss performance goals for two consecutive years. Schools that receive no Title I funds face public scrutiny, but no sanctions.

In 2004, Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, sponsored a bill calling for Utah to opt out of NCLB. The bill failed because lawmakers feared losing federal funding if Utah became the first state to opt out.

In April 2005, legislators passed a law making Utah Performance Assessment System for Students the "primary" accountability program for Utah schools and asserting the state's right to make determinations about how its children are educated.

In 2005, 13 Title I schools failed to meet NCLB performance standards. A Lehi Republican intends to introduce legislation that would ask Congress to repeal No Child Left Behind or may even call for Utah to opt out of the federal education reform act.

— Elisabeth Nardi
Salt Lake Tribune


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