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Leaving behind ‘No Child Left Behind’?

District joins nationwide campaign for relief from federal law

With approval of a resolution Tuesday, the Park County School District No. 1 board joined a national effort asking for relief from a federal education mandate.

The resolution, developed by the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators, asks Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, for immediate relief from regulations under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, pending reauthorization of the law by Congress.

“We urge the Department of Education to exercise their regulatory authority to relieve school districts from the constraints of current statutes, keeping schools from being held hostage while Congress moves forward with the complete authorization,” the resolution says.

Further, the resolution asks for suspension of sanctions under the law, commonly known as No Child Left Behind, for the 2011-12 school year, and specifically requests that the relief be made without additional requirements or conditions.

District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said the resolution simply asks Duncan to exercise a power he already has.

“The Secretary of Education has always had authority to grant regulatory relief,” he said. “It’s in the law, but it has never been done. (The School Boards Association) is trying to get as many signatures as possible to get that regulatory relief.”

Under the law as passed in 2001, schools are required to show “adequate yearly progress” in student achievement in reading and math by increasing the number of students who measure as proficient or better in the disciplines. Adequate progress must also be shown by sub-groups within the school, including minority students, low income students, male and female students and Title I.

In addition, schools are required to increase their graduation rates each year.

Schools that fail to do so are designated as “in need of improvement” and are subject to sanctions and required to take specific actions that could elevate to the level of closing a school or firing its entire staff. In response to the law, states, including Wyoming, have developed testing procedures and adopted requirements for school improvement. Wyoming uses the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students to satisfy both state and federal standards.

The law set a goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 and adopted a series of interim goals moving toward that goal. The required increases are larger for the 2011-12 school year, according to R.J. Kost, district curriculum coordinator, and another large jump will be required by 2014. The result is that even schools that have greatly improved their performance in recent years may fall short of reaching the standard.

School administrators have estimated that 75 percent or more of the nation’s public schools could be labeled as failing in the coming year under the law, which the resolution adopted by the Powell school board states is “a drastic misinterpretation of the accomplishments of America’s public schools, does more harm than good and undermines the hard work of millions of educators and students across the nation every day.”

Further, the resolution argues, districts are forced to spend resources on compliance with the regulations rather than on teaching and learning.

The law was scheduled for re-authorization in 2007, but Congress has failed to take action — despite the requests of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Problems with the law are widely recognized, even by some who voted for it in 2001, and Congress is expected to make major changes if it ever takes up the issue.

“We’re not sure when the law will be revamped,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a priority for Congress right now.”

Early this week, Duncan announced that states could apply for waivers from the requirements, but with a number of conditions, including tougher teacher evaluation systems and stronger programs to reduce the achievement gap experienced by some minority groups.

Mitchell said the additional requirements make Duncan’s waiver offer unacceptable, because it would not solve the issue of complex regulation that schools are facing nationwide.

“He’s saying he’ll give us relief, but by his rules,” Mitchell said. The board agreed.  Dee Heny moved to adopt the resolution, and the motion was approved 4-0. Patty Wurzel and Trace Paul were absent.

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