WatchSonoma Watch

‘No Child Left Behind’ changes draw local skeptics


Local educators are casting a wary eye on the Obama administration’s recent offer to release states from some of the most stringent aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind law in exchange for taking on a new set of regulations.

President Barack Obama unveiled the plan last month, allowing states that qualify for the waiver to be freed from provisions under No Child Left Behind — including the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2013-14.

But in exchange, states that accept the waiver must agree to another set of rules remarkably similar to those laid out under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, including making test scores a component of teacher and administrator evaluations, as well as imposing standards meant to better prepare students for college and careers.

“This won’t impact California until 2013 at the earliest,” said Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education. “The state has to get it and the district would petition the state for a local waiver. We don’t know what those terms and conditions are.”

Bellevue Superintendent Tony Roehrick called the plan’s requirement that the state apply for the waiver — as opposed to county offices of educations or districts — as “misguided.”

“It punishes schools that are in states that for whatever reason don’t have the political will to do what it takes to get the waiver,” he said.

Local educators said California isn’t likely to apply for a waiver — much less succeed in getting one.

After much fiery debate, California applied for Obama’s Race to the Top funds 2010, but didn’t receive any federal money. Race to the Top, like the most recent proposal, called for the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

California began allowing districts to negotiate test results into evaluations, but didn’t mandate it, according to Roehrick.

“My understanding is when they looked at California’s Race to the Top application, they weren’t happy,” he said.

Still, with the 2013-14 deadline for proficiency looming and a record number of schools and districts deemed failing under federal guidelines, state schools chief Tom Torlakson in August asked for relief from federal penalties — without the addition of an added set of mandates.

States are expected to indicate this month whether they intend to apply for a waiver and they will be doled out early next year. It is unclear if California will apply for a waiver this month.

Obama’s announcement of the waiver plan is being seen by some locally as the administration’s effort to side-step a politically stalled Congress that is now years behind in reauthorizing the controversial education law.

“The reason for the waiver is because of the inability of the federal legislature to approve a revision of the changes and (No Child Left Behind),” said Steve Bolman, interim superintendent of Petaluma City Schools. “We are still waiting — knowing that in just a couple of years, virtually every district will be a PI (Program Improvement)district.”

Twelve of Sonoma County’s 40 districts are on Program Improvement status, which triggers a progressively strict series of actions designed to bring struggling schools into compliance with federal standards. Schools that fail can be required to offer additional academic support, allow students to transfer to non-Program Improvement-labeled schools, make staff changes and eventually turn operations over to the state.

A record 53 Sonoma County schools fell into federal sanctions as a result of the STAR tests given last spring.

In the new plan, states that are granted waivers would have more control over how struggling schools are handled.

“They have that carrot out there, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough for California,” Roehrick said. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s going to continue to label schools that are doing well as failures.”

Obama’s continued push to use test scores to evaluate both teachers and administrators has raised concern among some education groups who debate how large a portion of the evaluation should be based on scores and how a student’s academic growth should be factored in.

The California Teachers Association has long bristled at making test scores a substantial portion of a teacher’s evaluation.

The latest proposal “swaps one federal, top-down mandate for another,” according to Dean Vogel, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association.

Casey D’Angelo, superintendent of Rincon Valley schools, said that test scores could become a valuable component of a revised evaluation system.

“I do think we have to revise the evaluation system that we have. I do think we can do better than we do,” he said.

But D’Angelo and others said growth, and not a set bar for all students no matter how their scores have increased over time, needs to be measured.

Still, educators, many of whom are feeling the pressure of Program Improvement sanctions, said they are not willing to support the waiver plan until more questions are answered about what the Obama administration wants and how the changes will be paid for.

“Right now we are just trying to find some answers,” said Erika Hoffman, principal legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association. “There are lots and lots of questions — and it’s going to take some money.”

While No Child Left Behind has put the focus on deadlines that hit in the 2013-14 school year, the 2012 election will likely play a bigger role in whether changes are made to federal law or not, D’Angelo said.

“I think something will change,” he said. “But I don’t really see things changing before the next election.”

Staff writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

7 Responses to “‘No Child Left Behind’ changes draw local skeptics”

  1. SA says:

    Have any of you talked to a K-12 teacher lately about this and done a reality check. The kids are pampered by some teachers and never really forced to learn all that they should for that grade. They still get promoted though into the next grade because, well, “no child is left behind” even when they should be. There is no such thing as “flunking” a grade like their used to be.

    In today’s environment the parents are involved in many cases are doing better than half the work so that it is a better paper, but what does that teach the kids? “If I complain enough or if I don’t want to apply myself, someone else will do it”? Is that really the lesson you want your kids to learn?

    If you really want to jump into this discussion, try and explain why “no kid is left behind” when they should be. If the kid can’t do the work to get out of the grade (with very minor mental or physical exceptions) then they shouldn’t be graduated and moved forward. The child should repeat the grade and they “should be left behind”.

    It is not all the teacher’s fault as everyone tries to blame and a good percent of the problem actually belongs to the parents for not taking a more concerned role. Why is your child playing video games or watching TV when there is homework or a report to be done? You should be pointing part of that finger at yourself and then asking your kid why he/she doesn’t know as much as other kids in that same grade. They get the same material access to the same websites and have the same deadlines.

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  2. brown act Jack says:

    Again, a program that runs contrary to common sense gets great support from the people!

    Did you ever think that “No child left behind” had a chance of being successful?.

    If you had children you would know that some are smart and some are slow and that the slow could never keep up with the smart!

    The “Bell Curve” explained it all, and the public and the educators spoke against it as it violated some of their deepest beliegs.

    There is no way that you can get all children through high school, let alone college.

    If you want to have every one get the same education, simply give them a PHD when they are born, and then everyone will have the same initials after their name.

    Ask your teacher friends how hard it is to get the “disabled” students to learn anything, and how they expect not to have to leave them behind in the school system.

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  3. SP says:

    Pearl, Commonsense and Reality all bring great points to the table. “Easy,” you sound really disgruntled, uninformed, negative and judgmental. Most teachers care greatly about the kids and teaching. They don’t do it for a paycheck…I almost thought you were kidding.

    The Feds have no business being involved, everyone has to participate and pay taxes (that means helping get folks documented!), and Obama’s Race to Nowhere make Bush’s NCLB look brilliant since our CA legislators are so lame. Oh yeah….unions are destroying the system, tenure should be restricted and folks have to participate in benefits/pensions.

    I enjoy the discourse.

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  4. It's Not Easy Being Easy says:

    Teachers are really only worried about themselves and their big pay checks. Teaching kids is at the bottom of the list. Topping the list, their wages, benefits and time off. Ditto second on that list, and ditto third on that list.

    The certainly don’t want anyone to evaluate their work or anyone to even critique how they teach.

    Just keep the pay increases coming and shut up they tell us. Well, its time for change and time the kids were put into first not last in our schools. Start teaching the basics and that America is something to be proud of, not disdained.

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  5. Reality Check says:

    Simply put, California wants federal money for schools without any strings attached. Nice try. But it doesn’t work that way.

    The alternative, however, is even worse. We might have to actually pay for the schools we want.

    So, do we let Arne Duncan become the nation’s de facto superintendent of schools or pay the price of independence?

    What a dilemma.

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  6. Commonsense says:

    Pearl has some very good points. There are too many administrative/government layers, both within the states and federally. We should be able to educate our kids effectively without all this bureacy. And, yes, teachers should be held to some standards, and it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to get rid of poor teachers. I think a major first step would be to eliminate the Federal Dept. of Education, let the states handle this function, as it’s really a state issue.

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  7. Pearl Alquileres says:

    1. Abolish the Department of Education.
    This would free up Billions of TAX dollars dedicated to education and put an end to “No child left behind” as well as Obama’s well intended road to hell.
    They had their chance, all the money they could ever need and they have failed miserably. Time to shut it down.

    2. Implement a Voucher system.
    Allow each individual parent to decide were that money goes. Put the power directly in the hands of the ONLY people who have the education of children as a #1 priority.
    Schools would have to compete for those vouchers and the ones who fail to do so will go under. Good riddance!

    3. Ban all Public Employee Unions.
    The Teacher’s Union is just that, the “TEACHER’S” union. They have NO interest in the education of children and shouldn’t! That’s NOT what they’re paid for. They are paid to get the best deal possible for their members and their members ARE NOT the children.

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