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State needs waiver from federal school law?

The waiver for NCLB would mean that the state would have to invest millions and millions more in unproven gimmicks like "new and improved" teacher evaluations and merit pay that have not been proven to help kids achieve. If we took the millions of dollars invested in testing and used them for teaching instead, kids would receive a better education. If you think that kids today get the same education kids got 20 years ago you're dreaming. We ought to be spending money on class size reduction, school nurses, school psychologists, classroom aides, arts programs and vocational ed. instead all those things have been cut from school budgets. Teachers are alone in the classroom trying to raise test scores for fear that their school will be labeling failing while kids living in poverty are offered no enrichment that would compensate for their backgrounds and help them keep pace with their wealthier classmates.

The push for testing and more testing, teacher evaluations and charter schools are all driven by profit. None of these so called reforms have demonstrated that they improve kids' educations more than a simple investment in our schools. It's not about the kids, it's about the money.

Viewpoints: State needs waiver from federal school law

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Special to The Bee
Published Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

The No Child Left Behind law, or NCLB, is an important tool that has helped schools nationwide track the epidemic of unacceptably low student achievement, and the gap in performance between various students.

The law set admirable goals – universal advanced student achievement by 2014 – but doled out a rigid prescription for getting there. The prescription included identifying schools that were not improving quickly enough as failing. It also required those schools to pay for intervention options, including hiring vendors to provide supplemental tutoring services and transporting students to a different public school if their parents chose to move them.

It turns out however, that this prescription is not particularly effective at helping students to learn and grow. Student achievement in California has steadily increased over the last decade, but the progress is slow and far too many students drop out or graduate without being prepared for college or meaningful employment.

NCLB hasn't cured public education, and has now labeled so many schools as "failing" that the term no longer has much impact. Few parents have elected to take advantage of school choice or supplemental services. Yet, the law still requires districts to set aside 20 percent of their main federal education funds to pay for these services.

It is no wonder the federal prescription has been ineffective. NCLB requires a one-size-fits-all treatment that ties the hands of local educators who need to take a more surgical approach to address complex problems.

School leaders who can more closely examine the systemic symptoms of low student achievement in their communities are in a much better position to make changes that result in healthy improvement for all students. Local educators understand the urgency – students only have one shot at a good education, and the future economic health of our communities and our state are incumbent upon us getting this right.

President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan are now giving states some options for improving student achievement. The federal flexibility they offer challenges those who have long complained about NCLB's rigidity and effectiveness to step up to the plate so we can better meet our students' needs. California should jump at this opportunity to refocus our school improvement efforts.

NCLB flexibility will significantly free up precious federal dollars, allowing districts to support educators and give students more time with great teachers.

For example, the flexibility that will free districts from the requirement to budget 20 percent of federal Title 1 funding for the little-used supplemental tutoring and transportation could allow our seven districts to collectively hire an average of 1,236 more teachers, or 1,916 more high school guidance counselors, or purchase 168,568 laptops for student use.

In exchange for flexible use of these federal funds, states will need to implement rigorous standards for college and career readiness, improve school accountability and support systems, and create evaluation processes that improve teacher and principal effectiveness. These requirements naturally dovetail with a new and appropriate student- centered focus.

The flexibility requirements are doable – and are reforms that are an important part of our districts' treatment strategy to help students learn, close the achievement gap, and prepare all students to compete in the competitive global economy.

Our districts are committed to working together to implement these systemic reforms effectively irrespective of the federal waiver. But our students, and every other student in California, will only get the benefit of NCLB flexibility if California applies for the waiver.

Educators are hungry to use this opportunity to fix our broken system. We want to address what is ailing our schools and use the flexibility to strategically improve teaching and learning.

California should to commit to apply for the NCLB flexibility waiver and develop and implement a reform plan to that is rigorous and real. By taking advantage of this opportunity to make systemic improvements that better prepare all students for successful futures, California will ensure a healthy future for our state and nation.

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