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August 11, 2011 8:51 am

EDITORIAL: Schools need relief from unrealistic federal requirements

Written by Don Amend

A decade ago, Congress passed the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.

The intent of the law was to force schools nationwide to make sure all of their students achieve proficiency in the skills they need to succeed, regardless of their economic status, race, special educational needs and a number of other factors.

The law had a noble purpose. It was meant to improve student achievement across the board, and it particularly aimed at improving achievement among minority groups, low-income children and students with special needs — groups that typically have lagged behind in schools.

But the law set a totally unrealistic goal, that 100 percent of students would reach proficiency by the year 2014. Interim goals were set and periodically were increased. Schools that did not make annual progress toward the goals are subject to sanctions and must take actions that may be as serious as requiring the firing of an entire staff at the direction of the federal government.

In practice, that meant that a school could show improvement, even big improvement, over a couple of years and still be labeled a failure because a goal set by government fiat had moved in the meantime. According to the law, even a successful school system like Powell’s could face sanctions under the law.

As a result, the law, over the long term, set public schools up for certain failure. No institution, business or individual, public or private, achieves 100 percent effectiveness over the long term, and it is totally unrealistic to expect that sort of performance from the nation’s schools.

As a result of this fantasy goal, states are warning that as many as 82 percent of schools in the nation will be rated as failures next year, and, despite the political posturing over the “failure” of America’s schools, that is nowhere near the truth.

Congress, of course, could fix this problem, but it is having trouble achieving any success in its own area of responsibility, let alone fixing schools. Neither President George W. Bush nor President Barack Obama has been able to convince the Congress to act on changes or adjustments to the law.

As a result, several states have asked for waivers of the law’s provisions, and some have said they would just ignore the law this year.

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acted on a provision of No Child Left Behind that allows him to grant regulatory relief. He will grant waivers to states, relieving them of sanctions under the law, but with conditions. States still will have to build tougher evaluation systems for teachers and include programs to address the achievement gap affecting minorities, for example.

That’s not enough for educators in Wyoming and most other states, and the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators have joined forces to launch a nationwide petition drive calling local school boards to adopt a resolution. The resolution calls, not for waivers, but for unconditional regulatory relief, without additional requirements, until Congress acts to reform No Child Left Behind. Specifically, the resolution asks for suspension of any sanctions under the annual yearly progress goals set for this school year.

Tuesday night, the Park County School District No. 1 board adopted that resolution. We commend them for doing so, and we hope it’s the start of a trend toward a more realistic policy by both the state and federal governments to help schools help our kids achieve.

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