03/20/07 — Jones proposes changes to No Child Left Behind Act

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Jones proposes changes to No Child Left Behind Act

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 20, 2007 1:52 PM

Since its introduction in 2001, the federal No Child Left Behind Act has weighed heavily on the minds of local school officials.

Its rigorous requirements for grade-level proficiency and academic growth have tested local officials. But legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week that indicate that drastic changes, including an opt-out clause, might be in the offing.

The original legislation was one of President George Bush's major initiatives during his first term. It divides students into subgroups based on race, income, disabilities and English proficiency. The expectation is that every student will be at or above grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

Between now and then, schools are measured based on whether or not they meet their adequate yearly progress -- their mandated percentage of students meeting grade-level proficiency, which increases every year until it reaches 100 percent in 2014.

The problem, Wayne County Schools associate superintendent Dr. Craig McFadden said, is that those students in the limited-English proficient subgroup and the students with disabilities subgroup are expected to perform the same on the tests as everybody else.

In Wayne, of the 31 schools assessed during the 2005-06 school year, only four made adequate yearly progress.

"Many of the schools that did not make AYP missed by one subgroup in one subject area," McFadden said.

The most problematic subgroups in Wayne County are limited-English proficient and students with disabilities.

"That causes all kinds of problems for school systems," McFadden said. "As the benchmarks move up, more and more schools are failing to meet them. Basically the way (NCLB) is written right now, every school will fail by 2014."

And when schools fail, there are penalties. School improvement plans must be written; students must be given the option to attend other schools; special tutoring must be offered; and school personnel could even be replaced.

Avoiding that scenario, though, is the goal of the new A-PLUS (Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success) Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican.

"I did not vote for Leave No Child Behind. I was opposed to it," Jones said. "This will give an option to the states to either opt out or stay in the program. I think they should have that option."

The legislation does not penalize states for opting out of No Child Left Behind's testing mandates, but it would require states to continue to spend at least 90 percent of their current education budget on the schools.

It also would require assurances from the states that they would continue to meet the needs of disadvantaged students, as well as a description of their plans to maintain direct accountability to parents and residents.

"To me, this empowers the teachers and the administrators. To me, they know much better how to educate their children than the federal government."

Fellow House member, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat, opposes changes in the law.

"I know that No Child Left Behind, in theory, is a good and that it can provide good results," he said, adding that he would like to see more money for the program.

"You've got to look at the tested child and where he started from and measure his progress, but to just allow states to opt out, that is not good legislation. Education is too important."

McFadden said No Child Left Behind should be closely examined, with an eye toward easing the burden on local school districts.

"I think it certainly needs to be studied. It's in deep need of revision," he said.