Govs Call for More Control Over NCLB

 

Renewal of the oft-criticized No Child Left Behind federal law is supported by the nation's governors, but they want far more authority to carry out its mandates.

That's the crux of recommendations the National Governors Association (NGA) sent to Congress Thursday as that body considers what the second iteration of the five-year-old law should look like.

"The governors' voices when No Child Left Behind was initially written were not present," said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), co-chair of the NGA's lobbying effort, in a conference call Thursday. But now "the states believe that it's very important that the governors have a voice on this because we truly have a unique view about how this piece of legislation can be implemented."

The governors aren't alone. Their recommendations were jointly released with two other state groups: the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education .

The education law, which requires annual testing and punishes schools that fail to make adequate progress on those tests, passed Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support.

But since then the act has repeatedly come under fire, decried for such things as its focus on testing and punishments. It is set to be reauthorized this year and a variety of groups are calling for changes - including, now, the governors.

"The reality is that at the end of the day, the issue always lands in the governor's seat because it is a key part of what's happening in the state," said Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri (R), the other chair of the lobbying effort. "Governors are going to have to be the point people, if you will, to see (these changes) get implemented."

The NGA's recommendations include allowing states to decide the most appropriate way to test students; not requiring any new tests; differentiating consequences for schools that fail to make progress by a little or a lot; rewarding schools that perform well; and giving states grants to voluntarily benchmark themselves to international standards.

Some suggestions reflect the battles individual states have had with the federal government over the law, such as alternate tests for students with disabilities, or allowing English learners more time to learn the language. Arizona and Virginia have clashed with the U.S. Department of Education for not giving the states more time to teach their foreign students English before testing them in reading.

The governors also want fewer restrictions to consider a teacher "highly qualified." To reach that distinction, teachers must either have a degree or show content knowledge in every subject they teach, but the NGA wants certain new teachers to be considered highly qualified if they meet those standards in their main subject and are on the path to certification in others. That is a concern of sparsely populated states like Alaska, where rural schools often have one teacher teaching multiple subjects.

The NGA also called for the federal government to give states enough money to adhere to the act, which was the reason for a 2005 lawsuit by Connecticut that is currently in federal court.

According to Jack Jennings, president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy , a nonprofit research organization, it is significant that the NGA has allied itself with other state groups.

"That the state-level people are trying to have a common position, I think that shows that they realize that this is going to be a very difficult reauthorization and if they have a common position it reinforces their views before the Congress," he said. "From the state perspective, that's a step in the right direction."

 
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