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NCLB Outrages

Schools seeking mandate experts

Local districts are hiring administrators to ensure schools meet state and federal education standards. "Accountability specialists" -- another boondoggle brought to us by FCAT and NCLB.

By Tiffany Lankes

School districts have already shelled out millions of dollars for tutoring and remedial programs to help students meet state and federal education goals.

Now, with pressure increasing to meet the standards of the FCAT and No Child Left Behind, they're taking on another cost -- salaries for administrators to navigate the political, financial and educational nuances of these education mandates.

The new positions are another example of how the national push for more accountability in the classroom is driving changes in the schools.

"School districts are starting to take this more seriously," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, which is tracking No Child's effects on schools. "The first couple of years, people weren't quite sure what No Child Left Behind meant, or what the requirements would be. But now we're starting to see the broad effect this is having on schools."

On Monday, the Manatee County School Board created a new executive position that will monitor student performance on standardized tests and help the district comply with the No Child law.

School officials in Sarasota and Charlotte counties say they are starting to see a need for more administrators to keep up with these standards, too.

The Manatee job could pay up to $127,000, a salary that rivals some of the highest-paid administrators in the region.

"We really have to get some laser-light focus on what's going on in our schools," said assistant superintendent Lynette Edwards. "As this push for accountability grows, we just feel we've got to do something to get a better hold on these things."

Schools here have had to meet state standards for their students' performance on standardized tests for years. But now the federal No Child Left Behind law -- which aims to have students reading at grade level by 2014 -- is putting a heightened pressure on schools to improve.

The responsibility of keeping up with accountability standards has typically fallen on administrators already overwhelmed with other obligations.

But as those standards get tougher -- and more schools fail to meet them -- school districts are finding they need more specialized help.

"They're pinning us to the wheel to be in compliance with all these different facets," said Carole Roberts, an administrator in Sarasota County. "Everything you do is No Child or a state law. It's very time-consuming."

Administrators are also finding it's no longer enough to just keep up with programs for the classroom. They also have to deal with the financial, political and data analysis parts of the laws too.

"This is certainly an all-encompassing program," said Barbara Melanson, human resources director for the Charlotte County school district.

The new Manatee administrator will be responsible for monitoring the success of new remedial programs geared toward helping students do better on the FCAT. The administrator will also keep track of state and federal accountability standards, and figure out what the district must do to comply.

Accountability specialists are becoming more common in larger school districts and those in states with their own testing standards, said Jennings, of the Center on Education Policy.

They're also becoming more typical in districts with schools failing to comply with No Child and facing tough penalties under the law.

About 30 schools in Florida are facing a state takeover for failing to meet the No Child goals this year. There are about 500 schools that could face the same sanction if they fail again next year.

"School districts are realizing these sanctions are getting more significant," Jennings said. "Maybe it's wise for the counties to get prepared for what's next."

— Tiffany Lankes
Sarasota Herald Tribune


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