Feds Attend N.C. News Conference Over School Accountability Law
State education groups pushing for adjustments to new U.S. school accountability laws found a detractor in their midst when they held a news conference Wednesday: the federal government.
A U.S. Education Department spokeswoman traveled from Atlanta to attend the event at the Legislative Building - and take issue with comments by representatives of 10 North Carolina organizations that want changes to the No Child Left Behind law.
In particular, Angela Price said, North Carolina has more flexibility to meet the standard of hiring well-qualified teachers than the groups said they do.
"There was misinformation," Price said after the news conference.
The criticism comes six weeks after members of the State Board of Education and others went to Washington to speak with Education Department leaders and air their complaints about the law.
State schools superintendent Mike Ward said at the time he was pleased with those discussions. But one speaker at Wednesday's event said Price's appearance there shows the federal government will take a hard line against states seeking waivers from No Child Left Behind's requirements.
Jim Causby of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators said the groups generally support No Child Left Behind's goal of raising teacher and student standards nationwide.
But Congress has underfunded the plan by as much as $10 billion, he said, arguing that North Carolina would receive tens of millions of dollars more annually if the program was fully funded. Price countered that federal education funding has increased 49 percent since President Bush took office in 2001.
No Child Left Behind requires schools to make "adequate yearly progress" in test scores in several subgroups, including poor students and minorities.
Those that fail to show adequate progress two years in a row would receive federal assistance but would be forced to allow students to transfer to different schools.
Educators complained that the law does not differentiate between schools that miss their testing goals in one subgroup and those that fall short in several subgroups - all of them miss the mark.
"Under No Child Left Behind, it's very unforgiving," said John Dornan of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.
The education groups want testing to be adjusted for the mentally handicapped or those with limited proficiency in English.
The groups also are concerned that new requirements for teacher licensing will keep qualified applicants from entering the classroom, exacerbating the statewide teacher shortage.
Under the federal law, teachers who do not have a minimum number of college credits in each subject they plan to teach are not considered to be "well-qualified."
Local school systems say they don't want to have to require instructors who teach more than one subject to take an unreasonable number of additional courses.
Price responded that under the law, teachers who lack the necessary college credits in a subject can be labeled "well-qualified" if they have several years experience teaching in the field.
"Having a highly qualified teacher is not unattainable," Price said. "North Carolina hasn't investigated the full possibilities that they have in that regard."
Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press
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