Should No Child Left Behind be left behind?
By Celia R. Baker
Some Utah legislators disagree with the State Board of Education's position on reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind education reform act, and they want Utah's congressional delegation to know it.
Earlier this month, the state board took preliminary steps toward supporting continuation of NCLB - but only if state control increases and drastic alterations are made.
That's not good enough, said several members of the Legislature's Interim Education Committee, which met Wednesday. They want NCLB to disappear completely, along with the federal "meddling" that goes with it.
Under NCLB, the federal government places requirements on states for teacher quality, school accountability and student progress. The law is often criticized as an underfunded mandate and a federal intrusion on state authority - and praised for its emphasis on needs of disadvantaged students and educational accountability.
Utah has been a leader in rebellion against NCLB. The law is due for congressional reauthorization in 2007, although many believe the vote might be postponed until 2008 or beyond for political reasons.
Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, a leader in Utah's opposition to NCLB, hopes Utah stakeholders can agree on a position on the law's continuation. But if that doesn't happen, she wants legislators' voices heard. As education committee co-chair, Dayton asked committee members to submit their opinions in time for next month's meeting, and weighed in with hers.
Dayton believes NCLB is inconsistent, punitive and an unconstitutional usurpation of state power by the federal government. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, echoed Dayton's sentiments, saying,"When the federal government gets involved, education becomes more expensive and less effective."
But Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, a public school teacher, voiced a more moderate position.
"I don't want to appear to embrace what
seems to me kind of a mob mentality in terms of saying NCLB is all bad," he said. "We can't ignore the light that has been shone on achievement gaps. That would have come about under U-PASS [Utah's state school accountability plan] eventually, but having the federal government shine that light has created an awareness that otherwise might not have been there."
The request from the state's congressional delegation for "Utah's position" on NCLB came to State Schools Superintendent Patti Harrington, who is seeking input from the state board, legislators, the governor's office and state education chiefs throughout the nation.
Harrington characterizes the state board's position on NCLB as a complete rethinking of NCLB that "repeals the bill and puts something else in its place" - something that looks much like U-PASS.
Harrington appreciates NCLB's focus on reporting the proficiency of disadvantaged student subgroups, but resents what she considers to be "public humiliation" of schools deemed as failures, and the law's "one-size-fits-all" definition on teacher quality.
Harrington will relay legislators' positions on NCLB to the state school board before it takes its final position in August. Though Harrington hopes to provide Utah congressmen with a unified state position on NCLB reauthorization, she realizes it might be impossible.
Celia R. Baker
The Salt Lake Tribune
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES