Inside the Law
MESSAGE: Live Free or Go Broke
Will people from the "Live Free or Die" state tell the federal government to keep its NCLB regulations?
More than half of New Hampshire's school districts oppose yet another unfunded mandate from the feds. The state's residents were scheduledto vote on whether to reject the NCLB mandates last month.
The unanswered question is what will happen if the entire state refuses to enact this legislation. The federal government might withhold all its education funds to New Hampshire.
"[The vote is] a very strong message that would be sent to our congressional delegation, reminding them
of how we do things in New Hampshire," says Dean Michener, interim executive director of New Hampshire School Boards Association.
"Local control is probably the key word here. Local taxpayers are funding the major piece of education budgets. ... They want to maintain control over programs."
The NHSBA upholds figures from the New Hampshire School Administrators Association that estimate districts must spend, on average, an extra $575 per pupil each year to implement No Child Left Behind, but only receive about $77 per pupil from the federal government. The costs include training and hiring more qualified teachers and paraprofessionals as well as technology expenses. Several other states have expressed concerns about the law's financial burdens.
New Hampshire voters don't want a repeat of the federal government's promise to fund 40 percent of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The government has yet to live up to that promise.
As of mid-February, about 80 out of 150 school districts statewide adopted resolutions opposing the new law or planned to vote on a Warrant Article, which would tell the feds that voters "vigorously oppose any and all unfunded and under-funded federal educational mandates..." due to heavy financial burdens on school budgets.
No Child Brings Every Lawyer Out
Aflurry of potential lawsuits in New York, California, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington, D. C., could hit the fan—in the name of No Child Left Behind. New York City lawyer Charlie King has already filed a suit—possibly one of the first of its kind nationwide—against Albany and New York City school districts claiming that parents were not properly notified that their children were inpoor-performing schools and had the right to transfer to another school or get extra academic help, according to a story in the Albany Times-Union.
“It’s not unlikely that we’ll see some litigation around NCLB,” says Ross Weiner of Education Trust, a group that aims to improve schools in poor areas.
PUTNAM COUNTY (Fla.) SCHOOL DISTRICT
Dealing with Your Own Failures
Perhaps the worst part of the No Child Left Behind bill, for administrators at least, is the government’s ability to tab schools as failing. Because the law says each subgroup of students has to show annual progress toward state-defined goals, even a good school can be labeled failing if one subgroup doesn’t progress according to schedule.
But Putnam County School District Superintendent David Buckles has already lived through Florida’s school grading process and he has some advice for those awaiting grades with the trepidation of a 14-year-old at report card time. Relax.
“You’ve got to get beyond feeling like the law is fair or unfair,” he counsels. Although Buckles admits he thinks the law is “a lot more positive than negative,” he talks about how he handled the first bad grades in his Palatka, Fla., district.
Florida’s program grades schools from A to F, although it doesn’t require each subgroup of students to show progress like NCLB does.
In one year, two of 19 schools in Buckles’ district were given D’s, and the following year one school in his district received its first failing grade.
“That got our attention,” he says. “I immediately gathered my instructional division and asked them to show me an educational plan for each kid, where they started the school year and how they’ve progressed.” For those who were behind, he demanded a prescriptive, researchbased strategy for their improvement.
“Because of the accountability, we did a better job of developing strategies,” he adds. This work muted a lot of the local criticism that was expected with the bad grades. When parents came to complain, Buckles explained the problem and showed how the district hoped to improve.
“It took the sting away. Even the local media became very supportive,” he says. “The thing you don’t want to do is make excuses. Accept the challenge and rise to the occasion.” —Wayne D’Orio, www.putnamschools.org