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NCLB Outrages

Oregon Schools Superintendent Changes Her Mind About NCLB

Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, long a staunch supporter of the federal No Child Left Behind law, switched gears Thursday and blasted some of the law's toughest school accountability measures as unfair and demoralizing to educators.

She said "it is time to push back" on key provisions of the law, and she will go to Washington, D.C., to make that case.

In her monthly newsletter sent to thousands of educators, Castillo wrote: "No one can argue against success for all students -- however, we are discovering some of the results of this law are actually regressive."

About one part of the law she wrote, "This is unfair." About another, "This has to change."

That's a new stance for Castillo. In the 22 months since the landmark education law was signed by President Bush, Castillo has repeatedly praised it. She has told audiences of skeptical Oregon educators that the law would shine a light on problems in Oregon schools in order to fix them and that she was committed to making the law work for Oregon students.

In particular, she championed the law's insistence that schools serve poor and minority students as well as white and economically advantaged students. Making public those gaps should spur needed change, she said. Under the law, schools face unprecedented federal accountability, particularly for test scores, dropout rates and teacher qualifications. Schools that fail to meet performance targets face a range of sanctions, such as helping students transfer to higher-performing schools.

Castillo said in an interview Thursday that her criticism was prompted by Oregon teachers and principals, who told her the law felt punitive to them and is hurting morale.

"Teachers are feeling demoralized. Principals are telling us this is not good for teachers, who are doing a very good job. When you talk to the (Oregon Education Association) folks, they're saying people are just outraged; there are people who have put their whole life's work into teaching and now they're facing growing class sizes and then on top of that comes this label," that the teacher is "not highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind, Castillo said.

In the newsletter, Castillo says she will push to secure changes in four key provisions of the law. She's taking issue with new rules requiring stepped-up teacher qualifications, increased testing of special education students and with rating school performance as inadequate if a single group of students, such as low-income students or those who speak English as a second language, do poorly. And she says rural schools deserve a special break.

Joann Waller , executive director of the Oregon Education Association, which represents teachers, applauded Castillo.

"I know she's been out on the road, and I think what she's hearing is the same thing that we're hearing here: The level of angst, if you will, about everything related to No Child Left Behind, now that it's actually a reality in schools and classrooms, is running very high. . . . I don't think she's overstating it at all. The issues are very real," Waller said.

Castillo said in the interview that she remains committed to the goals and many of the provisions of the federal law, which she calls by its initials. "I am still very much signed up for the goals of NCLB, absolutely. I do not want to send out a negative, anti-NCLB message. NCLB is here to stay. But we do need to get a couple of things fixed to make it work for us."

The newsletter is available at:


— Betsy Hammond
Schools chief hits reverse, slams parts of No Child Left Behind


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