Wethersfield superintendent questions NCLB
Ohanian Comment: Ok, now people are speaking out. Good for them.
What we need next is people striking--en masse--refusing to be party to this outrage. We need to take back our schools.
By Mike Berry
KEWANEE — Bill Owens doesn’t hold back when he gives his opinion on No Child Left Behind.
“Nobody in their right mind would have written that piece of legislation,” Owens said Thursday at a program sponsored by the Kewanee League of Women Voters.
Owens, the Wethersfield school superintendent who will retire June 30, told the League members that No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, has noble goals.
The law seeks to make sure that all children in the country are taught in healthy learning environments by highly-qualified teachers, and achieve passing grades on annual achievement tests.
No one could argue with those goals, Owens said. But NCLB was written by politicians, he said; “They never brought any educators to the table.”
NCLB ties federal funding to student test performance and teacher competence, and Owens said he feels some of the program’s aspects are unrealistic — especially for smaller school districts.
In 2003, the first year it was in effect, NCLB required that for a school district to meet its standards, at least 40 percent of students who took state achievement tests had to pass them.
That requirement rose to 47.5 percent for 2005 and 2006, and next year it will be 55 percent.
After that, this “average yearly progress” goal will increase by 7.5 percent per year, until it reaches 92.5 percent in 2012. In 2014, 100 percent of students will have to meet passing levels on the tests.
Owens said the “hammer” the federal government holds over local districts is money: Federal funding can be withheld for schools that go onto a “watch list” when they don’t meet the required levels on the achievement tests.
Some schools in Illinois have been on the “watch list” ever since NCLB went into effect. If they stay on it for six straight years, NCLB provides that the state can step in and remove the superintendent and administrative staff, and reassign teachers and pupils to other schools.
Among problems Owens sees with NCLB:
- It’s based on student performance in math and reading, and ignores things like writing skills, science and social studies.
- In order to be certified as “most qualified” under NCLB, a teacher in grades 7-12 must teach in a field in which he or she majored in college. Owens said many teachers teach subjects in which they minored.
- Not only do school districts as a whole have to meet NCLB requirements, but each of several “subgroups” of students must also meet them. The subgroups include low-income, minority and special education students.
NCLB is one of several pressures on school financing in Illinois. Owens said other problems include excessive reliance on property tax for Illinois schools, the need to provide “adequacy and equity” in education, the diversity of school districts in the state (ranging from small rural districts to the Chicago school system) and, as Owens put it, “Politics, politics, politics.”
Another financial burden for school districts is teacher retirement. Owens said for decades the state has been under-funding the Teacher Retirement System, which means local districts have had to pay more — and teacher pensions are at greater risk.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES