WatchSonoma Watch

State schools chief lashes out at No Child Left Behind law


California’s schools need relief from “inappropriate labels and ineffective interventions” that are a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to state schools chief Tom Torlakson.

Tom Torlakson.

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Torlakson said the program’s requirement that 100 percent of students reach proficiency by the 2013-14 school year means a rapidly escalating number of schools and districts are being deemed failures despite rising test scores and rankings according to the state’s formula.

California bases its scores on a “growth mode” under which students, schools and districts are judged by how much their scores increase over time.

The federal standards are based on all students meeting the same requirements at the same time, no matter where they scored when assessments began.

Under those federal rules, nearly 80 percent of eligible schools will fall into sanctions for the current school year when scores are released in the coming weeks, Torlakson predicted.

“Even more are expected to fail (to meet federal benchmarks) over the next few years as targets rise, and as such, the federally imposed labels cease to provide any meaningful information to stakeholders who deserve a more comprehensive understanding of a school’s performance,” Torlakson wrote.

Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington credited the controversial law with highlighting the needs of different subgroups of students, including English language learners and special education students, but called requirements that every single student reach proficiency at the same time “somewhat ridiculous.”

“That is not realistic,” he said.

Penalties when schools and districts fall into federal Program Improvement sanctions include offering additional academic support, allowing students to transfer to non-Program Improvement-labeled schools, and eventually staff changes or state takeover.

Torlakson contends that cash-strapped districts in California have limited ability to dedicate funds to intervention requirements. He called the requirements “huge burdens.”

In Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County’s largest district, seven of the district’s 10 elementary schools are in Program Improvement. Two of the district’s five middle schools and two of five high schools, are also in some level of sanctions.
Letters are issued every year, alerting parents to their rights to move to a campus not in Program Improvement.

That process, and others already being undertaken by the district to improve student scores, will not stop despite Torlakson’s letter, according to Superintendent Sharon Liddell.

“Torlakson is asking Arne Duncan to give California a waiver,” she said. “Unless or until that officially happens, then we have to go ahead with things as they are.”

Few families choose to move campuses under No Child Left Behind provisions, according to Santa Rosa district officials.

Initial requests filed for the current school year show 41 elementary students have asked to move, as well as 22 middle schoolers and 47 high school students. Those numbers are expected to become final in the coming weeks.

School officials have long expressed frustration at what they call the unrealistic demands of the federal regulations and the message it sends to students, parents and teachers.

“One of the widely recognized problems with NCLB is the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to labeling schools that fail (federal) Adequate Yearly Progress, regardless of the reasons for the failure or whether the school fell short by a little or by a lot,” Torlakson wrote.

And the difference between a school deemed a failure under federal guidelines and a success in the eyes of the state can be perilously thin. Last spring, nine students’ dropout status proved the difference between Santa Rosa High’s being named a California Distinguished School and being deemed failing under the rules of the No Child Left Behind law.

School officials remedied a reporting error and the campus was awarded the Distinguished School honor.

Staff writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

15 Responses to “State schools chief lashes out at No Child Left Behind law”

  1. Social Dis-Ease says:

    @ Western Cluebird: you have a clue. THAT is how Agenda 21 rolls in our schools. Indoctrination of socialist principals.’Greater good’, manufacturing concensus. Environment as a religion.
    Intentional ‘dumbing down”.
    Ignoring the Constitution.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The problem with NCLB is it’s mandates in order to get funding. And it’s underfunded as well.

    It’s important that children get a well rounded education. I did, and I went to very small schools in Mendocino County and was able to enter a state college easily. When NCLB was instituted teachers were mandated to teach to tests instead of teaching children HOW TO LEARN FOR LIFE. Classes became less interesting for the children. Classes like social studies, political science, history, science, music and other arts, PE, critical thinking and problem solving skills all were given little attention.

    Children improve when they want to go to school because it is a place where each child’s needs will be taken into account and is interesting. Some children will be artists (NCLB took that away), some children will be musicians (NCLB took that away), some children will be teachers (how can you teach others if you never learn how to learn?).

    When I went to school, buses were free to events and to and from school, I didn’t have to bring pencils and other supplies to school when I was in grammar school(some teachers today have to supply them with their paychecks). I had a book for each class. I had the opportunity to take music, both chorus and an instrument I didn’t have to pay for, art, business, PE. It was a well rounded education in a poor school.

    We are shortchanging our children’s education at the risk of the future health and welfare of this state and country. Other countries are far ahead of us. As an American, I am EMBARRASSED for my country.

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  3. Western Cluebird says:

    The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a United States act of congress proposed by President George W. Bush and sheparded through congress by Ted Kennedy, one of its sponsors.
    It received overwhelming bipartisan support in congress.
    The House of Representatives passed the bill on May 23, 2001 (voting 384-45) and the United States Senate passed it on June 14, 2001 (voting 91-8).
    It was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002.
    NCLB is federal legislation that enacts the theories of standards-based education reform.

    Touted as “optional” the Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. If a state opts out, their tax money will be used for other states.
    Standards are set by each individual state.
    Since enactment, congress increased federal funding of education from $ 42.2 billion in 2001 to $ 54.4 billion in 2007.
    NCLB received a 40.4% increase from $ 17.4 billion in 2001 to $ 24.4 billion. Funding for reading quadrupled from $ 286 million in 2001 to $ 1.2 billion
    Title 1 funding for districts for disadvantaged children increased from $ 42.2 billion to $ 55.7 billion from 2001 to 2004. A new $ 1 billion Reading First program was created and over $ 100 million added to its companion, Early Reading First. Numerous other formula programs received large increases as well, in total; federal funding for education increased 59.8 % from 2000 to 2003.
    Funding for school technology as part of NCLB is administered by the Enhancing Education through Technology Program. (EETT). EEET recipients committed more than $159 million in EEET funds toward professional development during the 2004-05 school year alone.NCLB increases were companions to another massive increase in federal funding at that time. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA saw increases to part B, a state formula-funding program that distributes money to local districts for the education of students with disabilities from $ 6.3 billion in 2001 to $ 10.1 billion in 2004, a 60% increase.

    NCLB unifies conservatives, progressives, Republicans, Democrats, teachers and many others in opposition to it.
    Supporters claim that it improves test scores, increases accountability, and assists traditionally under-served groups of children ( such as minorities, low income students and students with disabilities) They say that it improves quality of education by supporting Early Reading First Initiative and emphasizing reading, writing, mathematics and science. They claim that it also offers greater school choice. (Parents may opt out of poorly performing schools and transfer their kids.)

    Criticisms are many and cross political lines. Some argue that NCLB has not been sufficiently funded. A primary criticism asserts that NCLB reduces effective instruction and student learning because it causes states to lower achievement goals and motivates teachers to “teach to the test”. The system of incentives and penalties
    (Funding or sanctions after two years of not meeting standards) sets up a strong motivation for schools, districts and states to manipulate test results.
    Critics argue that these and other strategies create an inflated perception of NCLB’s successes. Because each state can produce its own standardized tests a state can make its statewide tests easier to increase scores. They claim that NCLB narrows the curriculum, losing the benefits of a broad education, (excluding the arts, foreign languages, and social studies) that the “one size fits all” approach does not work, and that there are not variables for English language learners or students that have below average capabilities, such as mental retardation. Some conservative or libertarian critics argue that NCLB sets new standards for federal education and sets a precedent for further erosion of state and local control, and that the federal government has no constitutional authority in education.
    Some schools are only funding instruction for core subjects or for remedial special education. NCLB puts pressure on schools to guarantee that nearly all students will meet the minimum skill levels (set by each state) in reading, writing and arithmetic, but requires nothing beyond these minimums. NCLB does not require any programs for gifted, talented and other high performing students. This violates the mandates of several states (such as Arizona, California, Virginia and Pennsylvania) to identify gifted students and provide them with an appropriate education.

    Many States have opposed the law including Utah, Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Arizona and New Mexico, and Vermont. (Probably more now).
    The Utah House of Representatives voted 64-8 not to comply with any provisions for which the federal government has not supplied enough money.
    Republican State Representative Margaret Dayton of Utah said “We gradually give up our state sovereignty when we accept our tax money back into the state with strings attached to it”. Mike Petrilli, former high- level Bush administration education official and NCLB stalwart wrote “I’ve gradually and reluctantly come to the conclusion that NCLB as enacted is fundamentally flawed and probably beyond repair. He laments several flaws in the law, none more damaging than what he calls the “race to the bottom”

    Control over test content and passing standards for NCLB are left up to the states. Therefore, to avoid sanctions, states water down their tests.
    An example of this is the long- standing (decades), well respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which judges the relative performance of states in a variety of subjects. The discrepancy between NAEP and NCLB scores is stark. In Arizona, twice as many 8th graders scored “proficient” on the states reading test than on the NAEP. Most states lower the passing threshold for NCLB exams, reducing the number of questions students must get right in order to pass and made their own questions easier. In Texas, students need to correctly answer only 29 of 60 questions in order to pass the math section.
    Teachers must report student performance by race, ethnicity and other categories so underperforming students do not get lost in school averages.

    My opinion is that NCLB is another failed federal program that at best was full of good intentions that did not succeed, and at worst is an attempt to dominate, control, and indoctrinate America’s school children. Many of these former education programs have an agenda that undermines America’s sovereignty, and emphasizes a one-world ideal and revised history as well as a different interpretation of the constitution and declaration of independence.
    The federal government’s goal is the restructuring of American government to a more global government, and this is being brought about through the restructuring of our education by the Secretary of Education using contracts with non-government officials such as the center for civic education (CCE) to “foster civic competence and responsibility.” The CCE will determine the curriculum and, by force of federal law, what must be taught in all our nation’s schools regarding civics and government. There is no oversight for the NGO and there was no vote regarding these bills.
    The restructuring of education focuses on restructuring the curriculum.
    References to United States sovereignty are almost nonexistent in the CCE program called “WE the People: The Citizen and the constitution” and the second amendment is completely and intentionally omitted. The CCE explains this obvious omission on page 207 of the textbook form of the federal curriculum, “We the people…”stating that “AS fundamental and lasting as it’s guarantees have been(past tense) the Bill of Rights is a document of the eighteenth century, reflecting the issues and concerns of the age in which it was written.” The agenda is one of a multicultural, diversity and globally focused set of principles that do not reflect
    America’s history of individual rights and freedoms. The agenda is not primarily educational; it is primarily ideological and political.
    NCLB definitely undermines the constitutional authority of the individual states as outlined in the 10th amendment which stipulates that education is reserved for state and local government. NCLB seems like just the latest in a long line of federal government programs designed to restructure America through our school curriculum with a cookie cutter mentality and a good intentions façade.
    According to ED.gov, NCLB is up for reauthorization in 2010.

    On March 13, 2010 President Obama’s administration released its blueprint for revising NCLB called Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) The blueprint “challenges the nation to embrace educational standards that would put America on a path to global leadership. It provides incentives for states to adopt academic standards that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace, and create accountability systems that measure student growth toward meeting the goal that all children graduate and succeed in college.” On May 4, 2010 the Obama administration released a series of documents outlining the research that supports the proposals in the blueprint.

    Three bills were passed by Bill Clinton and congress in 1994. These bills were
    (1) The Goals 2000 Educate America Act
    (2) The school-to-work opportunities Act (abbreviated as “school-to-work” or “STU” and
    (3) The funding appropriations bill for most federal education programs (known as HR6).From which “We the People: The citizen and the constitution” program evolved.
    According to the Associated Press, Education secretary Margaret Spellings encouraged universities to adopt the NCLB program. On August 14,2008 the Higher Education Opportunity Act (Public law 110-315)(HEOA) was enacted and reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965 as amended(the HEA). The HEOA makes a number of changes to programs authorized under the HEA, authorizes new programs, and makes changes to other laws. As of May 5th,2010 only the following three programs are funded at this time:
    1) Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans;
    2) Master’s Degree Programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and
    3) Master’s Degree Programs at Predominantly Black Institutions.
    The other new programs cannot be implemented until funding is provided.

    In essence, I believe that the Goals 2000 act, STW, HR6 and NCLB are all versions of the same federal meddling and its attempts to control education and to elevate the public good over individual rights. These programs are used to indoctrinate students with regard to a global emphasis and cooperation with the United Nations and teach diversity, environmentalism, and multiculturalism in our classrooms. The federal curriculum seems intent on reinterpreting our constitution and declaration of independence based on the belief that they need constant changes and updates made to them- that they are “living and breathing” or simply outdated documents. It devalues national sovereignty, natural rights and natural law. Now President Obama has his turn to implement his “blueprint for our kid’s education, the Elementary and secondary education Act. (ESEA) I can’t imagine that it will be any more successful or any less full of indoctrination than any of the prior education acts instituted by President Clinton or President Bush. I am certain it will probably be every bit as costly as the prior failed federally instituted education programs.

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  4. BigDogatPlay says:

    So what is being argued by the state is that since it can’t seem to educate students to the standards set forth in NCLB, it just wants to walk away from them. And, by derivation, doom our schools to an ever spiraling record of failure and production of students unprepared for higher education and careers.

    Physician…. heal thyself.

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  5. Shirley Durban says:

    It’s about time Mr. Torlakson! Waiting for Arne Duncan’s announcement didn’t show much political courage or personal moral outrage. But at least, in this 11th hour, a waiver has been requested.

    NCLB was established and furthered by our nation’s wealthy conservatives to usher in vouchers and continue to strengthen segregation, especially after the immigration issues that Bush and Spelling wrung their hands over in Texas. NCLB has succeeded in segregating our children by language and poverty in our county and throughout the nation.

    We can only hope that Mr. Duncan’s own 11th hour announcement, and subsequent Torlakson letter, can stem the increasing drop out rates, at now younger ages, as thousand of our schools are ‘failed’ then punished, through NCLB/RTTT doctrine.

    The wealthy administrator class who have rapidly learned to play the conservative game of institutional monopoly are rewarded by this primitive policy. The teachers, who tend to have the overriding value of our nation’s children in their hearts while on their game, are blamed and scapegoated. And finally, Ms. Rhee hangs her head in shame with her fiancé in SACTO. StudentsFirst? With advocates like these making headway into education policy chambers, we have indeed failed our children.

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  6. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Tom Torlakson:
    So Tom, now you know how we feel.
    Your government is unresponsive, placates,ignores you.
    Deliberately sabotages.
    Welcome to Agenda 21.
    The deliberate, engineered, orchestrated dumbing down of our children.
    It’s not what is Agenda 21?
    It’s what isn’t.
    Kudos to you for caring.
    Stand up against it.
    The difference between right and wrong,
    isn’t that what we’re supposed to teach?
    Insist that that the Constitution be an important part of the curiculum.
    That’s the glue that used to hold it all together…
    and the reason it’s all coming apart.

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  7. Reality Check says:

    Federal funding represents about 9% of public school spending. It’s unfortunate we started down that road.

    For that 9% the Feds want to exercise considerable control over schools, at a cost no one knows for sure. But it’s high. Educators complain often about it. Schools would like the money without the control. But that’s not how things work, whether the money comes from Washington or Sacramento.

    The best place to start education reform is to re-empower the classroom teacher. And then to regain local control of schools, which are better able to respond to the special needs of district students than a governing authority in Washington. For that to happen we must be willing to locally pay for the education we want.

    Wishful thinking about getting more “free” money from Washington has led to where we are.

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  8. SP says:

    Reality Check…..I think you need one! No Federal funding? NCLB came to be decades after the public education system was in place and gave no plan to schools on how to get better. The mandate is, don’t improve, less money….makes as much sense as Washington DC ever does.

    Note: you should also research the proponents of this nonsense. They are politicians heavily funded (lobbied) by the book companies, publishers, unions, etc.

    Statewide comparisons are acceptable – nation wide comparisons are not….unless of course you’re willing to adjust your salary to be comparable to that of a Louisisna resident…just sayin’

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  9. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Still think GOVERNMENT is the solution? Of course you do!
    Twice a month, on the 1st & the 15th.

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  10. Originalist says:

    What is ridiculous is the fact that California has failed its children. When compared to other states, California is among the lowest in academic achievement.

    Making progress is all well and good, but the fact remains that California still is failing its children.

    We have heard one excuse after another~ Rather than give excuses and question the rules set by the feds, why not improve the education given kids.

    Oh, and is it right that the other states borrow from the fed govt to pay unemployment insurance while California is given the money because it cant repay loans?

    The whole state and its leaders are one damn excuse!

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  11. Jimmy Pera says:

    No Child Left behind is no different then no adult left behind with Bailouts….If you fail then you don’t go forward…..both adult and child……No child left behind is educational socialisim….Fact…..

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  12. Sarky Fish says:

    Thanks to Tom Torklakson and the California Teachers Association, California’s public schools have fallen to 48th place. Mississippi is next. Our educational bureaucracy and teacher’s union reps should all be left behind.

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  13. Stephen Anthony says:

    How on the PD anytime a Democratic politician criticizes or speaks up such as Noreen Evans or Tom Torlakson, they are accused of “lashing out”? Is this more lazy journalism or the PD’s editoializing in the headlines?

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  14. Thoughts from the Yellow Bus says:

    All of this nonsense happens when the feds get involved in local school decisions. True is, the public school system in the U.S. is failing and the feds have done nothing but hurt any attempt to fix the problems. One size does not fit all.

    The problem in California is the teachers unions who do not want to be evaluated at all. They blame the parents for the problems of kids not being able to read and write English and the poor math scores.

    There is truth in what they say, but when teachers put themselves ahead of education and teach PC history, science and social studies, the system fails.

    Abolish the Cabinet Education Department, keep the feds out of education and in time better things may happen.

    Schools have to realize they cannot teach non-English speakers and students who culturally do not want to integrate into the American culture.

    Bureaucrats like the states school chief are in the back pockets of the teachers unions. That state position needs to be made non-elected and service a 8 to 10 year term to get it away from the claws of the governor.

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  15. Reality Check says:

    Unsaid in the article is that those “unreasonable demands” of federal officials, and they may be unreasonable, are accepted by a school district when it accepts federal money. If the program is actually a burden, drop out. No one forces any district to participate.

    Since many educators have long advocated national standards for schools, this sudden opposition to them is a bit surprising. One suspects it has more to do with the power it gives parents to move students out of schools that fail their children.

    That few students, to date, take advantage of this opportunity overlooks the biggest difference between students who do well in school and those who don’t, the parents they have. For the parents who care, the right to change schools is crucial.

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