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NCLB Outrages

Dayton says No Child sets schools up to fail

by Anna Chang-Yen

NEW ORLEANS -- Rep. Margaret Dayton's warpath against the federal No Child Left Behind law took her to New Orleans on Friday, where she told education writers that the law performs functions better left to state and local officials.

Speaking as a panelist at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, Dayton, R-Orem, outlined her opposition to the law that she says has "set up schools for failure."

After Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation told the audience that Dayton, "has a copy of No Child Left Behind with her at all times and has read every word of it," she produced her well-worn copy, complete with bookmarks.

The federal education law creates a culture of dependency, Dayton said.

"It really presupposes that central planning is going to be more effective than local control -- that public brains are going to be more effective than private brains," she said.

Petrilli argued that national standards are needed to increase achievement but conceded that NCLB is failing.

"In some ways it's creating a race to the bottom," he said. States are obliging schools' and parents' requests to make the tests easy enough to achieve "socially acceptable" pass rates, he said.

Dayton said she objected to the idea that achievement is the key. Giving all students the opportunity to learn should be the focus, she said.

"I think to say the achievement gap, it is not a worthy goal to address because it is very dampening to the entrepreneurial spirit and damaging to achieving students, especially those who learn at different times and in different ways," she said.

Dayton has been a critic of No Child Left Behind since it became law in 2002. In 2004, she led an effort to opt out of NCLB, and in 2005 sponsored a Utah law that prioritizes the state's education goals over federal requirements. The Department of Education has denied Utah's efforts to use a "growth model," which gives greater weight to growth in student achievement.

Dayton also questioned the federal Department of Education's annual $70 billion budget, and said the offices "metastasize" each time she visits. The department could be scaled back and relegated only to sharing best practices among states, Dayton said, with a budget of just $15 billion. Then each state could receive more than $1 billion for education, she said.

Now, the money paid in from each state is returned "with strings attached," she said.

Jason Kamras, 2005 National Teacher of the Year from Washington, D.C., public schools, also participated in the panel and said "human capital" is the key to reforming schools.

"All this is going to come down to having the very best people our country can offer serving as teachers, school leaders, counselors, district personnel and superintendent in our public education system, period," Kamras said. "Unless we have quality people, you can pass all the standards you want and adopt all the curricula and all the neat textbooks and products of the day, and nothing's going to change."

can be reached at 344-2549 or annac@heraldextra.com.

— Anna Chang-Yen
(Utah) Daily Herald


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