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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

Maryland to Take Over Troubled Schools

State school board officials in Maryland, the first in the nation to invoke a provision of No Child Left Behind to take control of some Baltimore schools, are considering financial penalties in the wake of the General Assembly's vote for a one-year moratorium on the takeover.

"We are still deliberating,'' says Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. "We'd like to wait and see what sort of plan Baltimore has for these schools."

The state could request the federal government withhold Title I funds of up to $54 million, Grasmick says. The state is seeking control of four high schools and operation of seven middle schools.

"In a 10-year period, 10,000 students dropped out of the high school. It's really unconscionable,'' says Grasmick.

The state is considering allowing a private education company to take control of the high schools next year when the moratorium is lifted. In 1999, three of the city's lowest performing elementary schools were privatized. The feds have lauded the state for its action.

"Superintendent Grasmick and the state Board of Education should be commended for taking historic and decisive action on the side of Baltimore students,'' says U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon.

-Fran Silverman

Lack of Teacher Quality

No state is meeting a particular requirement under the No Child Left Behind law, which calls for every teacher in core subjects to be highly qualified, and the National Education Association claims the requirement is not fair.

Although the deadline to comply just passed, the NEA has asked the U.S. DOE to extend the deadline to give states more assistance, and clearly define for all parties what is needed to meet the requirements.

NEA officials have also claimed the highly qualified provision has changed various times since the law was enacted over four years ago. And three states, including Connecticut and Minnesota, were told their definitions of highly qualified teachers weren't adequate, leaving many teachers in limbo.

"We share the department's goal of having every child taught by a highly qualified teacher, but it is unrealistic and unfair to expect teachers to meet the criteria when the rules and regulations keep changing," says NEA President Reg Weaver. Aside from the changes, "it fails to acknowledge that most middle school social studies teachers have a license or certification in social studies. It is common for many of these teachers to teach history, government, civics or other social studies disciplines but they do not necessarily have a degree or certification in each of those subjects."

The department explained that nine states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico need revised plans by July 7 to meet the requirement and may face sanctions, such as losing federal money. Another 29 states made some progress but must submit a revised plan and another 12 states were told the monitoring process was not yet complete and a final rating was not given. Those states also must submit revised plans detailing the specific steps to reach the goal in the coming school year.

Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson says the department is not giving an exemption, but rather, is identifying where states are in the process. "The good news today is that states are taking it seriously and implementing it," says Rene Islas, chief of staff for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. "This is an opportunity for states to put clear plans in place, to make sure teachers are supported to be highly qualified and to make sure students are getting highly qualified teachers."

Seven states are actively distributing higher qualified teachers to more minority and high poverty schools, where the highest needs are, as opposed to low poverty schools, Islas says.

Next Steps for Failing Schools

About 1,750 schools nationwide-including up to a third of the Chicago Public Schools system-are being tagged for restructuring, a process under No Child Left Behind that kicks in when schools do not meet math and reading targets for five years in a row.

Under restructuring, schools have five options:

1. Reopen as a charter school;

2. Replace all or most staff;

3. Turn operations over to a private organization with a good record;

4. Turn operations over to the state;

5. Choose any other major restructuring that will reform the school.

The last option is the most popular, notes Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, which has studied restructuring in Michigan and California.

"I think the reason educators are skeptical about the other options is that if you abolish a school, it's very hard to start a new school and you can't be sure of what you're going to get," says Jennings.

" If you abolish a school, it's very hard to start a new school and you can't be sure of what you're going to get." -Jack Jennings, president, Center on Education Policy

In Michigan, a state that is about two years ahead in reporting, 85 percent of 133 schools under restructuring improved to meet Adequate Yearly Progress in one year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Twenty percent of schools came off the list entirely by meeting AYP for two consecutive years.

Concern still exists about the last restructuring option. "If a few teachers get replaced or the curriculum is slightly changed, it's same old same old," says Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which supports national education reform. As NCLB's final consequence, restructuring may not be stringent enough, notes Petrilli. "If it turns out that the 'or else' [of NCLB] isn't anything to worry about, then it puts the whole project at risk," he says.

The number of schools in restructuring will grow as more states get five years of reporting under their belts. Schools in California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania account for almost 70 percent of schools ordered to restructure, according to the Associated Press.

" If a few teachers get replaced or the curriculum is slightly changed, it's same old same old."
-Michael Petrilli, vice president for national
programs and policy,
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

What will happen to schools that continue to fall short? "We're going to give them time to implement," says Chad Colby, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman.

-Caryn Fliegler

Dept. of Ed Expands Tutoring Pilot Program

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is expanding a pilot program so that districts can reverse the order of consequences for schools with low performance results under No Child Left Behind.

The department found in four Virginia pilot districts that allowing districts to first offer supplemental tutoring services to students in need and then requiring schools to offer school choice to higher performing schools was paying off. The law originally called for districts to first offer school choice and then tutoring services if the district did not meet adequate yearly progress after two consecutive years.