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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Legislators Critical of Bush's Call to Expand NCLB

President Bush might not have the votes in Congress he needs to move forward on his a $1.5 billion proposal to expand the major tenets of No Child Left Behind to the nation's high schools.

Some key Republican and Democratic congressional representatives are saying it's premature to consider any additional legislation before some key concerns over the original law have been addressed, including funding levels for NCLB.

On the right, some conservatives have been critical of the act saying it gives states less control over education, cedes too much control to the federal government, and it lacks school choice initiatives.

On the left, some Democrats say Bush never came through with full funding for NCLB and the federal education department has been slow in sufficiently addressing how to assess adequate yearly progress for limited English proficient and special education students. And some say his budget proposal to cut funding for vocational education programs to pay for high school testing is unfair.

"There are so many issues surrounding NCLB from the far right and far left. Any expansion would be something that would be highly debated,'' says Elizabeth Wenk, a spokeswoman for Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware, a ranking member of the House Education Committee and chair of the Education Reform Subcommittee.

George Miller, D-Calif., a member of the House Education Committee who supported NCLB in the original vote, says former allies are not getting behind Bush.

"President Bush has lost his credibility on education issues by failing to properly implement or fully fund No Child Left Behind, resulting in needless controversy about the law. The president has further shown that he is simply not credible on education by proposing to pay for his high school testing proposal by cutting proven education programs," Miller says.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says the department looks forward to negotiations on the proposal. "This is the beginning of the process, and I am encouraged by the fact that so many governors from both political parties have taken an interest in high school reform," Spellings states. "I am certain that we all have the same goal of trying to make the high school years be meaningful so that our nation's students enter the workforce or the higher education system prepared to succeed."

Krista Kafer, a senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says there is more of a variety of views of what needs to be improved in high school than there is on the elementary level. "A lot of folks feel that while there is some merit to the idea to expand NCLB, it is just premature,'' Kafer says. "There just isn't a consensus of what to do in high schools."

--Fran Silverman

Green Mountain State Debates Axing Law

A Vermont schools' union is pushing the state to ax the No Child Left Behind law in light of what they think are unreachable goals and little federal money to carry out the law.

But so far, the plan is on hold.

Six school boards of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, which serves eight towns and comprises 11 school boards, voted to sue the federal government saying the law is underfunded. One 2002 study shows the state was only receiving $52 million in federal money but it was going to cost the state $158 million in remediation and testing costs alone, according to William Mathis, superintendent of schools. "Financially, it's just a flaming disaster," Mathis says.

And he says that every student reaching adequate yearly progress every year is unattainable according to many scholars.

Vermont Education Commissioner Richard Cate says the state will comply with the law. State Sen. Donald Collins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says the state could hopefully work with new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "We're hearing mixed messages that she can be open to waivers and flexibility and working with local states and recognizing differences," he says.

From Soup to Nuts, Data are Available

Any administrator in Prince William County School District in Manassas, Va., can now easily access test results, enhance curriculum and track performance in any class in any school in the district.

The district, which recently consolidated and centralized its databases, is among the first to use an integrated database/software system.

Using software tools from Oracle Corp., the solution allows authorized users, such as central office and curriculum supervisors, to access information from any computer within the district.And it allows the district to deliver timely reports to meet time requirements under No Child Left Behind.

Pamela Gauch, associate superintendent for instruction, rattles off a list of benefits: It breaks down data for subgroups, such as limited English proficient students, as well as which objectives stump students.

Illinois Districts Say NCLB Conflicts with IDEA

In a first of its kind, a state Board of Education and two Illinois school districts are suing the U.S. Department of Education saying the No Child Left Behind sections that apply to special education students are in direct conflict with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Under IDEA, schools must develop Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, for each special education student. The IEP sets attainable learning goals based on a particular student's disabilities.

Under NCLB, adequate yearly progress requires that students pass standardized tests without allowances for most disabilities.

The Illinois Board of Education, Ottawa Elementary School District 140, Ottawa Township High School District 141, and parents of four students in those districts filed the suit in February.

Ottawa Township High School District Superintendent Thomas Jobst says IEP trumps everything for special education students. "Our request is that those [NCLB] sections in conflict [with IDEA] be declared invalid," Jobst says.

The Illinois standardized test is named the Prairie State Achievement Exam which has two parts, including ACT, a college entrance exam. It's a catch-22, Jobst says. "It's impossible for [all of] them to follow IEP and be in a college prep program," he adds.

This is the first challenge of its kind, according to Tom Hutton, staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. "At a minimum, whether or not you agree with the legal argument the districts are making, there is a huge philosophical difference between the one-size-fits-all in No Child Left Behind ... and the very individualized education plan which is about what's best and what's most appropriate for a particular student" based on what the parents, principal and teachers on the IEP team decide.

Utah Close to Cutting Loose from NCLB

Despite the Utah House of Representatives giving a thumbs-up to a proposed bill that would give higher priority to local educational goals than to those under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the bill is on hold after Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. called a special legislative session for April 20 to negotiate flexibility under the law.

The bill would have the state use the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students, or U-PASS, as the state's accountability system, according to Ray Timothy, associate superintendent of law, legislation and educational services at the Utah State Office of Education. The proposed bill also states Utah would not use state monies for federal programs.

"We think U-PASS is far superior to NCLB," Timothy says. "It's a growth model. We want to be held accountable for student progress."

But he says to hold every student with different backgrounds to the same standards and times, which NCLB wants, is "unrealistic."

Utah is among several states considering challenges to NCLB, including Colorado, Nebraska and Vermont. The U.S. education department turned down Connecticut's request to be exempted from expanding school testing to grades 3, 5 and 7. And in Texas, Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley changed the accountability rules to reduce the number of failing schools in the state, mainly based on standardized testing of special education students.

Last year, the Utah House proposed a bill prohibiting spending state money to comply with the law but the federal government threatened to withhold $106 million in education funding.

This bill is different.

"Whatever hoops we have to jump through to meet the NCLB requirements we will do," Timothy adds, noting that the state should still receive federal Title I funds. But the state won't follow NCLB's adequate yearly progress parameters. Instead, state reports will show if schools made adequate progress based on U-PASS, possibly noting whether or not the school made AYP, he says.

State Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican and Bush supporter, sponsored the bill, saying it reinforces that "education has traditionally been a states' rights issue." It will prioritize state resources on state goals and comply with federal goals as much as possible, Dayton says.