Thursday, December 03, 2015

House passes revision to No Child Left Behind law, allowing states to set own goals

The House today approved a revision to the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), giving more control to states, a positive move for rural and remote areas, advocates say. The overhaul, which passed by a vote of 359 to 64, "allows states and school districts to set their own goals and to decide how to rate schools and what to do with those that underperform," Emmarie Huetteman and Motoko Rich report for The New York  Times. The bill is expected to pass in the Senate next week and be immediately signed into law by President Obama.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the chairman of the House Education Committee, "said the existing law had left the federal government 'micromanaging' the education system," reports the Times. He said in a statement: “No Child Left Behind was based on good intentions, but it was also based on the flawed premise that Washington knows what students need to succeed in school."

Mark Hawkins, superintendent of the small North Star School District in northeast Montana, "said NCLB mandates to improve test scores each year were a disaster, especially for rural schools," reports Matt Hoffman for the Billings Gazette. Hawkins, who said the NCLB goals were noble, but unattainable, said that for "small schools, test scores can 'change greatly from year-to-year,' independent of long-term trends."

The bill will allow states like Alaska the "freedom to set its own performance goals, standard for teachers and testing plans," Ma. Elena Garcia reports for ISchoolGuide. "The pending bill will also have strong provisions for native education. It supports a current program that offers a curriculum specific to Alaska native students."

The bill passed Wednesday "retains the annual testing requirements in math and reading," reports the Times. "Schools must also continue to report the results by students’ race, income and disability status . . . Although the new bill requires that states take action to improve schools in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state as well as high schools that graduate fewer than two-thirds of students, the bill does not impose any specific action if those goals are not met."

"States are required to use test scores and other academic measures to rate schools but can also include other components like student surveys," reports the Times. "The bill specifically prevents the federal government from requiring that states evaluate teachers at all, much less use test scores to rate them, and says the education secretary cannot dictate any specific academic standards to states."

Most education groups welcomed the bill, while civil rights groups were cautiously optimistic, expressing concern that the new bill could put vulnerable children at risk, reports the Times. Andy Smarick, partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit education consulting and research group, told the Times, "Over the past 10, almost 15 years, we’ve so focused on reading and math scores, and this is the real opportunity to make sure we’re capturing the things that are important, whether it’s grit and persistence or school culture or parent engagement, and the only way to do that is to give power back to the states. You cannot centrally manage an innovative, creative accountability system from Washington, D.C.”

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