Let's Work Hard to Implement No Child Left Behind Law
By Gov. Jim Douglas
Vermont spends a billion dollars a year on public education. We are second among the states for education spending per capita and we have the lowest pupil-teacher ratio and the lowest pupil-staff ratio in the country.
Our spending continues to increase dramatically and yet we have not seen any substantial change in the performance of our students. Our spending is second highest, but our test scores do not reflect that spending. If money and student-teacher ratios were the only factors in providing a quality education, Vermont would be providing the best education. While these are important factors, they are not the only factors.
I do not suggest that we starve our education system of the resources that it needs to do the best possible job. In fact, the opposite is true; I believe we must inject our system of education with innovation and offer parents choices to encourage cultivation of this innovation.
That is why I will be advancing and supporting legislation in the General Assembly that will augment the choices we offer our children and our families. Public school choice in today's system is mostly for those who can afford to pay tuition or move to a new district. I believe it ought to be the right of every Vermonter, regardless of income.
Moreover, Vermont has a long history of advancing the interest of our students and seeking equity in educational opportunity. The obvious shortfall of the funding mechanism notwithstanding, Act 60 was a good step in that direction.
No law, particularly in education -- including No Child Left Behind -- is perfect. Nevertheless, in the case of both the original Act 60 and NCLB, they have set us in the right direction: in the direction of greater equality in access, opportunity and accountability. That is why I believe that a greater commitment to student-centered choices is the next logical step in reforming Act 60, now Act 68.
On the issue of accountability, it is impossible to know which schools are meeting most students' needs without appropriate accountability. This is why we must work to implement No Child Left Behind.
This bipartisan act, and it was bipartisan, establishes meaningful accountability standards and requires that states determine if every student is making adequate yearly progress. Measuring the progress of our youth and ensuring that they are making adequate yearly progress ---and holding our schools and their administrators accountable --- is an important step.
I would like to add, however, that it is important for us to work to make this federal law fit within the framework of Vermont's own education policy priorities, not the other way around. Just as local school boards do not always appreciate mandates from state government, state government does not always appreciate mandates from the federal government.
The barriers to successful implementation of the spirit and letter of this law are as much skepticism as financial. We have enough money to fund the elements of the law that we are required to meet this year.
We do not know, however, how much full implementation will cost. Consequently, I have urged President George Bush to continue to make funding for this law one of his highest priorities. It is for me.
In a recent commentary, Education Secretary Rod Paige points out that contrary to some who say No Child Left Behind is "under-funded," the current administration has increased K-12 education spending by 40 percent since the president took office. Education spending in the United States has increased by $11 billion; and I am proud to report that as a nation, we now spend more on education than on national defense. This is the product of a strong bipartisan commitment to our children.
That is why I was disappointed to read in a Vermont NEA newsletter recently the language of those opposed to the act, and criticizing it because it was funded with an appropriation below what was "authorized."
As many of you know, an authorization is a "limiting" number, not necessarily the appropriate or proper funding level.
Education is not just about spending. Vermont's high spending has led to extraordinarily high property taxes -- and has left us with a system in which some children do get a great education, while others are being left behind.
No child, not one Vermont child, should ever be left behind!
Jim Douglas is governor of Vermont.
NCLB Rules Must Change for Act to Be EffectiveEFFECTIVE
By Angelo Dorta
The Free Press' "Noblest of intentions" editorial (Nov. 21) concludes with an increasingly indisputable fact: "The NCLB [No Child Left Behind Act] is far from perfect. It needs recasting in several areas."
NCLB is a bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all framework based solely on annual standardized test scores to measure students and schools. "Adequate yearly progress" (AYP) indicators for each Vermont school demand that all children make the same achievement gains in the same amount of time. Every child can learn, but parents and teachers know that every child doesn't learn at the same speed or in the same way.
Unfortunately, mandatory, yearly reading/language arts and mathematics tests in grades three through eight and science tests in several other grades ultimately reduce students to test scores. Relying exclusively on standardized tests disregards additional meaningful data about students and school improvement. Teachers' professional judgments of individual student progress and individual learning differences and needs are minimized.
Furthermore, NCLB de-emphasizes other academic subjects and the arts. It encourages teachers to teach to the tests in reading/language arts, math and science, rather than giving students the full curricula and individual attention they need and deserve.
Instead, we should support teaching that recognizes children as unique learners. Whenever necessary, instruction should be differentiated according to students' prior knowledge, natural learning abilities and varied learning rates. Student achievement should be measured by several reliable assessments, not just standardized tests.
We also should invest our limited resources in what really works: high teaching and learning standards; better teacher training; up-to-date books; and learning technologies, and more parent involvement. However, NCLB requires penalized school districts to wastefully reserve up to 20 percent of their federal Title I funds to pay for students opting for private tutors and for transportation to other public schools.
Vermont Department of Education and independent analysts estimate a $150 million price tag by 2007 for full NCLB compliance and personnel to help Vermont students and schools annually achieve required AYP goals. Currently, Vermont receives $50 million in federal education funds. Thus, new NCLB expenses could constitute a direct cost-shift to local school districts and taxpayers, despite 51 school budget defeats last year.
Here's what must be done:
-- Modify AYP: NCLB penalizes Vermont public schools even if annual AYP gains are insufficient in only one of 37 categories for two consecutive years. Thus, a school can pass 97 percent of its AYP goals and still be punished. A fairer standard of school success prevents false labeling of many schools as "failing."
-- Provide flexibility: Reasonable accommodations should allow "highly qualified" licensed teachers to instruct students in related academic subjects (e.g, history and civics); multiple measures of student and school progress (including improvement over time); and better assessments for special education and limited English students.
-- Reward school success: NCLB emphasizes school punishments, including school-funded private tutoring and student transfers, replacement of staff and even school closures. They simply aren't justified for Vermont's public schools and won't work in rural states. Rather, progressively loosen annual federal testing and accountability requirements as students achieve AYP goals. Provide increased funds to expand student programs and teacher professional development.
-- Guarantee full funding: States and school districts need NCLB's authorized full amount of federal money each year to pay for mandatory student testing and school assistance. Annual requirements should be suspended whenever NCLB is not funded at its authorized level.
Indeed, let's fix and fully fund NCLB to fulfill its worthy goals for all students: equal learning opportunities, continuously improving student achievement, and instruction by caring and competent teachers. If not, the law will leave behind too many children and hardworking public schools.
Angelo Dorta is president of Vermont-NEA.
Governor Jim Douglas & Angelo Dorta, President , Vermont-NEA
Burlington Free Press
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES