A Superintendent Talks Turkey on NCLB
I am a school superintendent in Littleton, Colorado and am now having to figure out
how to implement all the requirements. From my perspective, I don't need one more, so called, reform piled on top of 2 others already
existing in the State of Colorado. I am now having to live with 3 different expectations with the use of data, 3 different rating systems, 3 different sets of sanctions, and the fact that none of these systems are necessarily valid or reliable in terms of their effectiveness. That coupled with a great deal of confusion by state officials regarding
definitions for all this "stuff" has really created some interesting and time consuming activities for us as a local school district.
My school district is a suburban community (16,200 students) where our test scores are above the state and national average, but I am still required to participate in this non-systemic approach to school reform.
While I believe the intentions are good and it is a great slogan, the fact is, schools in school districts are never going to be any better than what a local community is expecting in terms of accountability. Having 3 systems of accountability has done nothing but confuse my
The current AYP calculations which require a district to have all "sub-groups" at a certain level of proficiency has also created an
interesting reaction from my special education parents. My school district and 5 of my schools will not meet AYP this year because my total special education population currently is not at the 76% proficient level while at the same time all of my schools meet the expectations of state accreditation and receive high ratings from the School Accountability Report from the Governor's office through the Colorado Department of Education mailed directly to the homes in my district. We also have a reputation for being the school district to
bring your child too if they have special education needs because of the quality response that is given to these children. And you wonder why my parents are confused?
Given my demographics and the change in allocation of Federal funds from free and reduced lunch to the 2000 census data regarding poverty, I was informed at the end of May last year that we would receive $375,000 less
from the Feds this year that was about a 7 1/2 % drop in funding from previous years in Federal funds. It also is important to point out that in a $110 million budget, I only receive $5 million from the Feds now. About 5% of total money including food service and I am having to respond to 1200 pages of Federal regulations when, quite frankly, from a local community point of view, this was a very good place for kids to be educated before the Federal government decided to become more actively involved in the important state function of providing public schools for
Just a couple of points. First, one size does not fit all. Painting everyone with the same gray brush is a bit simple. Secondly, I agree
with you, I do believe there should be a real debate but it should be about the value of public policy shifting from local and state control to the Federal government calling the shots even though most of what they expect is unfunded. The best example is the creation of Special Education legislation back in the 70's with the initiation of requirements under 94-142. Important legislation in terms of the rights of special education kids, but again, not a lot of money. I currently spend $11 million a year on this program and receive about $1.75 million from the state and the Feds. So what do I do? I slice the same pie in
to thinner pieces to pay for the unfunded mandate. The same goes for ESL and alternative education. The Feds are now telling me that the
current teacher certification practices in the State of Colorado will not suffice for highly qualified teachers creating some major problems
at the middle school level in teacher certification even though all of my middle schools are rated as "High" and are fully accredited by the State of Colorado. I could see their nose in my business in programs
directly funded by the Feds, but not for programs that are not receiving Fed funds for their program delivery?
Given the various reform movements already going on at the state level, NCLB feels more political than practical. I have worked in 2 states,(St. Louis)Missouri and Colorado. In both cases, the state reforms that were in place have and are giving me the leverage and traction that I need as a school superintendent to institute strategies that can and do
accomplish higher performance while dealing with some of the local politics. The majority of local school districts are much more
successful than I think they receive credit for. If you don't believe it, just look at the standard of living we have established in this
country. That has happened as a result of an educational system organized by the 50 states with 50 different state departments of
education that believe that it is important for all kids to get a basic education. By the way, in 1960, about 30 to 35% of the students
attending public schools dropped out after the 8th grade and who knows how many kids didn't even attend school because of disabilities. My drop out rate today is less than 1% in my school district where all kids have access including those with very special needs!
We tend to roll out the large urban school districts as a poster child of bad public education when we want to show cause as to why more governance is needed from somewhere else. The fact is, the reason those systems are in trouble starts with their size. Secondly, poverty is a constant in the majority of the population. By the way, the issue of
poverty creates a number of demons that visit these public schools every day. I would suggest that if we were really interested in school reform, we should start by declaring that no school district would be above 25,000 students. School districts of this size can be much more responsive and held more accountable than the larger urban units we now see.
My parting thought is that while I believe there is a place for the Federal government to be involved, it is not at the level we now have
with NCLB. It is a state responsibility and more importantly, a local responsibility through local governance in concert with state
expectations. In addition, it is the state that creates the consistent on-going revenue streams that are essential for the stability of the local systems. The "soft-money" from the Feds will never be a good source for supporting reoccurring expense that tends to inflate every year. The fact is, if you want to serve others at a level where you truly are going to serve all kids and leave no child behind, it is labor
intensive and cannot be done just because of slogans based on good intentions. I don't apologize for the fact that it is going to require funding levels that serve not only the general population but the special needs of certain groups of kids. I have regular education
programs, special education programs, alternative education programs, programs for limited English speakers. (29 different
languages) A higher cost goes along with these special needs populations because the economy of scale is different. Class sizes are much smaller for these special needs populations. For what it is worth, I think this cost should be funded by the state and not the Feds.
Suerintendent, Littleton Public Schools
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES