Meeting the challenge
Most Utah schools - students, teachers, administrators - have risen to the latest education-reform challenge: the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act.
While they have raised test scores to meet the new federal standard, however, some teachers and school administrators rightly believe that education should be governed by the state and not by Washington bureaucrats. The Utah Board of Education said just that in a policy statement on Friday, and Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is formulating legislation to challenge the mandates of NCLB.
She and the board believe a state reform package called Utah Performance Assessment System for Students that would make schools competency-based but also allow for the unique challenges of individual schools has a better chance to succeed in the long term. So do we.
A bill sponsored by Dayton this year would have exempted Utah from NCLB mandates but would have cost the state $107 million in federal funds. Utah can't afford to stand on principle at that expense. Any legislation to exempt Utah from NCLB must offer an alternative that keeps the federal funds coming.
Statewide, scores improved this year over last year so that most Title I schools were able to avoid the sanctions prescribed in NCLB for those that fail to make "adequate yearly progress."
Title I schools receive federal money because they have large populations of disadvantaged students. If they don't make adequate progress for two years in a row, they are required to foot the transportation bill for students who want to transfer to a school with better test scores.
Last year 70 Utah Title I schools missed at least one of the NCLB goals. This year only 14 did not meet all the criteria and six will face sanctions.
That rate of success is remarkable, considering there can be as many as 40 NCLB goals per school - and 40 chances to fail - and that No Child Left Behind was underfunded last year by more than $10 billion from what the Bush administration promised in 2001.
Academic achievement in language arts and math is measured for all students in 10 subgroups made up of various ethnic and racial groups, socioeconomic groups, those whose first language is not English, and students with mental and physical challenges. Student participation in tests, attendance and graduation rates also count toward progress deemed adequate.
The goals of No Child Left Behind are largely the goals of the state-sponsored performance system: to educate Utah students so that they can demonstrate proficiency in core academic subjects and be ready for college or jobs by the time they graduate from high school.
However, education traditionally has been a state responsibility. And with the set-up-to-fail NCLB as the alternative, that is where it belongs.