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NCLB Outrages

Education Chief Warns Against Changes to NCLB

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas' former education chief who now oversees kindergarten through 12th grade education nationally, warned Friday against efforts to amend the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

A group of large-district superintendents and the University of Arkansas said in a report last week that the law labels good schools as bad and changes are needed.

Ray Simon, who directed the state Department of Education from 1997 to 2003, said the concerns, which are being echoed by educators in other states, don't yet merit any amendments.

"If we start going in to try to change the law, then everybody that doesn't want to be accountable - everybody that's using the same old excuses that have always been used - will take advantage and go in and try to weaken the law," Simon said in an interview before speaking at a charter school conference in Little Rock. "Then we will have no meaningful legislation."

Under the No Child Left Behind law, schools whose students don't perform well enough on the state's benchmark exams are listed as schools needing improvement. Such schools give parents the right to send their child to another school, with busing provided if necessary.

Arkansas has 272 schools labeled as needing improvement. The state has more than 1,000 schools.

The two-year-old law also requires that every student be able to read and do math at grade level within the next 10 years.

Leslie V. Carnine of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, formerly Little Rock School District superintendent, said the law holds promise, but "it could have some devastating effects if we don't fix the problems with it."

Carnine, executive in residence at the UA College of Education and Health Professions, led a presentation of the 36-page report last week.

The report "Accountability and No Child Left Behind?" is by the Research and Advocacy Network: A Consortium of School Districts.

Thirty-seven of the state's largest school districts make up the group.

Among the criticisms: That the law bases its sanctions on a single test and that each state has set its own, different, reading and math levels under NCLB, and Arkansas educators say the bar here is higher than in other states.

The fear among educators is that without some changes, schools will be unfairly tarnished, which will undermine public support for public education.

Simon said he had read the report and believes the fears are no different and no more rational than when the state began imposing stricter accountability laws when he was leading Arkansas' education system.

"There's never enough money for anybody," he said. "The arguments are the same but the names have changed. I think they're based on fear."

He said teachers and principals who don't know how to adapt to the new law can find help.

He said his department has planned a series of seven teacher workshops this summer across the country that will highlight successful teaching.

"We're going to bring in teachers that have actually done what many of the critics of NCLB say can't be done," he said. "They've closed achievement gaps, they've raised achievement levels of all students. They've accepted no excuses. The children they teach expect to be taught; they expect to learn; they want to learn. No excuses."

— David Robinson
Arkansas News Bureau


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