States Eye Possible Changes to No Child Left Behind

 

State lawmakers will ask Congress to give states more flexibility in meeting the Bush administration's sweeping No Child Left Behind education law, but the White House has made it plain they'll have to wait at least until after the 2004 elections.

"The current Congress and the current administration want no part of [changing No Child Left Behind law] until after the election," said Utah Rep. Kory Holdaway (R), who chairs the education panel for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Holdaway told Stateline.org that a recent meeting between a handful of Republican state lawmakers and White House officials about the federal education law "didn't go as well as I would have liked." He said administration officials made it clear they thought it was premature to make any changes to the law -- even though the state representatives laid out a litany of areas that they said need to be revised.

"There needs to be substantial changes [to No Child Left Behind]," Holdaway said, including guidance on how to factor in the test scores of disabled students and how to determine whether a teacher is "qualified." If the administration won't make these changes, the NCSL will ask Congress to act, he said.

Nebraska state Sen. Pam Redfield (R), former chairwoman of the NCSL education panel who also attended the White House meeting, said she was "extremely encouraged" by the administration's cooperation. She told Stateline.org the U.S. Department of Education plans to make available in January a model software program that states can use to report data required under No Child Left Behind to the department. That will save them time and money over coming up with the program themselves, she said.

Redfield said it was unrealistic to think Congress would have time to amend the No Child Left Behind law in the upcoming year. She also said it might be beneficial to wait another year before Congress makes changes so that policymakers "can see where the glitches are and address them."

Congress is in no hurry to tackle No Child Left Behind. "We have no intention to reopen the law prior to its reauthorization in 2007," said Josh Holly, a spokesman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Both Redfield and Holdaway said Congress should take another look at the way No Child Left Behind treats special education students and students with limited English skills. As it stands now, all students, including those who are disabled or don't speak English well, must reach certain goals each year or their schools will land on lists of failing" schools.

Holdaway, who teaches special education at Taylorsville High in Salt Lake City, said the law should take into account the progress these students make and not simply whether they reached the targets.

He also said students meeting state benchmarks should be proof enough that the teacher is highly qualified in that classroom, regardless of whether that teacher has a college degree in that subject.

"The federal government has stepped in and made changes that should be handled at the state level," Holdaway told Stateline.org.

Holdaway said he hopes the NCSL will use its Dec. 9-12 meeting in Washington, D.C., to pull together a group of state lawmakers and possibly officials from the U.S. Department of Education to look at some of these issues and come up with recommendations for Congress.

"We're feeling some frustration," Holdaway said.

So is the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association. Unionized teachers in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are asking their U.S. senators who sit on the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to hold public hearings in their states so that lawmakers can gather input "from the people who are directly experiencing the law's impact in the classroom," according to NEA spokesman Daniel Kaufman. NEA also is working on a lawsuit to challenge the federal education law.

 
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