NC to waive No Child Left Behind

By November, North Carolina will apply to opt out of No Child Left Behind.

President Barack Obama delivered a speech from the White House Sept. 23 announcing a new opportunity for states to waive certain requirements of the largest education reform act in the past decade. North Carolina’s State Department of Education will apply for the waiver Nov. 14 because officials do not feel the existing NCLB scoring system accurately portrays the performance of N.C. schools.

“The accountability system does not work,” N.C. State Superintendent June Atkinson said. “The system doesn’t make sense or follow common sense. It does not adequately portray our states’ schools and how successful they are.”

Under the current system, only 27.7 percent of N.C. public schools met the passing “adequate yearly progress” standards, according to the state’s 2010-2011 Adequate Yearly Progress report. In Durham, only eight out of 54 schools passed the NCLB set standards.

NCLB is a piece of education legislation­—implemented in 2002 while former President George W. Bush was in office—that determines federal funding allocations for all public schools based on set reading, language and math standards. Schools that fail to meet all the academic standards lose entitlement to some of their federal funding. In a Sept. 23 letter to chief state school officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Obama administration acknowledged several shortcomings of the policy as the basis for this reform. Duncan will allow states to request exemptions to the law.

“The No Child Left Behind legislation, while well intentioned, has always contained one serious flaw that forces skepticism among school leaders nationwide,” Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats said. “If one subgroup [within a school] misses the target, then the entire school receives a disparaging label that may not be warranted.”

The NCLB system is set up in a manner that equally penalizes all schools who do not meet the standards, even if one school fails to meet more provisions than another, Atkinson said. Schools that do not perform up to par are denied certain federal funds, she added, which perpetuates many of the original underlying causes for the poor scores, including socioeconomic factors.

“We have a fairly high poverty rate in North Carolina with at least 50 percent of our students eligible to receive free or reduced lunches,” Atkinson said. “About 115 of our school districts suffer below poverty levels, and in these areas the funds could be used for needed additional teachers, supplies, technology and help for students.”

Instead, schools scoring below passing levels—failing to meet one or more requirements—trigger “sanctions,” which is when the government offers specific aid to target problems in the schools.

North Carolina ranks among other states planning to apply for a waiver. Duncan noted that several states have opposed NCLB for years, claiming it has been ineffective for helping students.

The applications for the waiver will require states to explain their chosen alternative form of accountability as well as outline their self-imposed higher standards, Duncan said. The applications will be reviewed by a panel of experts in all relevant fields—such as experts in students with disabilities, leadership evaluation and standardized tests. If accepted, changes to the state will be put in effect during the 2013-2014 academic year, he said.

“It is unclear at this time how an approved waiver will impact federal funds to schools locally,” said Lewis Ferebee, chief of staff for Durham Public Schools. “A waiver could potentially relieve the challenges of the NCLB school choice and the ‘one fail, all fail’ accountability models and allow for a greater focus on growth for all students.”

In his speech, Obama also outlined other unintended effects from NCLB that he hopes the new initiative will minimize.

“Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test—subjects like history and science have been squeezed out,” Obama said in the Sept. 23 speech. “And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a race to the top.”

The goal, he explained, is to have states raise their standards and make the accountability system more flexible to allow each state to work to its own strengths by proposing its own form of self-regulation.

“Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school,” Obama said. “We have fallen to 16th [worldwide] in the proportion of young people with a college degree, even though we know that 60 percent of new jobs in the coming decade will require more than a high school diploma.”


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