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NCLB Outrages

An out for 'No Child' law?

How is NEA leadership like Ted Kennedy?

Neither can admit that backing NCLB was a mistake.

By Suzanne Struglinski

WASHINGTON ΓΆ€” A pending House bill would allow Utah ΓΆ€” or any other state ΓΆ€” to opt out of the requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and instead use federal money to satisfy education needs, according to the bill's sponsors.

Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, both R-Utah, are strong supporters of the bill, saying it makes schools more accountable on the local level instead of to Washington.

But the National Education Association says the bill introduced last week by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., does nothing to help solve the real problems of the No Child Left Behind Act and might actually end up hurting those children ΓΆ€” namely minorities or those in special education ΓΆ€” that the law was designed to protect.

"No Child Left Behind has created more testing, more paperwork and has cost schools more money to comply with federal mandates," Hoekstra said when he introduced the bill. "We will soon have federal government schools should we continue to follow the current trajectory of adding more tests in more subjects such as science, geography, history, economics, government, civics and physical education with new federal mandates and penalties."

The bill, titled the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act of 2007 or A-PLUS, would allow all states to provide the secretary of education with a "declaration of intent" to assume full responsibility for the education of their students. "They would continue to receive federal support, but they would be free to advance their own policies," according to Hoekstra's office.

Participating states would then be able to combine federal and state education money into one stream and the state could use "federal funds on state-driven initiatives to advance its educational priorities," according to Hoekstra's office.

Bishop said the schools have to come up with an accountability plan but one that is accountable to parents and local taxpayers ΓΆ€” "not some bureaucrat back here."

Cannon said under the current law, many Utah schools "fail" because of the way the law calculates statistics. If the proposed bill became law, the state could follow a better way to calculate progress that is more suited to Utah schools versus a national benchmark.

Bishop, a former high school teacher who sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the bill already has 52 co-sponsors and Hoekstra hasn't even "hit up" Democrats yet.

"This legislation actually has some possibility," Bishop said.

Utah's Legislature has opposed No Child Left Behind, saying it is a big federal intrusion on the state's right to conduct education, said Ray Timothy, deputy state superintendent for public education. Timothy is "excited" about the bill, because it will give the state the chance to better serve students.

"It doesn't make us just jump through unnecessary hoops," Timothy said. "It allows us to be flexible to help us meet the needs of our students."

Utah tried to get a waiver from some NCLB rules in 2005 but was denied by the Education Department, Timothy said. That same year, the Legislature seriously debated opting out of NCLB and forgoing the federal funding that comes with participation, but that proposal did not pass, Timothy said. In 2006, the Legislature decided that the state can get federal money but cannot use any state money to satisfy NCLB criteria.

Timothy said the state "embraces" accountability, and this proposed bill would not forgo the accountability process.

Hoekstra said the states would need to provide "transparent accounting" measures to the education secretary and they will have to comply with federal civil rights laws. The bill would also require annual reports on student progress.

"No Child Left Behind has created a one-size-fits-all approach to education when students and schools are very unique with very different needs that require very different approaches," Hoekstra said. "The A-PLUS Act will restore accountability to parents and schools as states advance individually tailored academic policies."

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said there are problems with the No Child Left Behind law, but the A-Plus proposal is not the way to solve them.

Weaver is not in favor of the proposed bill because states "can spend money on whatever they want, including vouchers."

"It would allow states to do things with money they shouldn't do, and it can create problems for misuse of money," Weaver said, adding the many states see fit not to spend money on minority students or those at lower income levels ΓΆ€” exactly those the law does not want to leave behind.

Weaver said a better way to fix the law would be for the administration and Congress to provide enough money to fulfill the requirements, especially for smaller classroom sizes, better teachers and safer school environments.

"Everybody focuses on the output," Weaver said, referring to school test scores and grades, but he said better environments, better teachers and other "inputs will help the output."

"There are a lot of unintended consequences because of this law," Weaver said.

The No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization this year.

— Suzanne Struglinski
Deseret Morning News


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