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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

Achievement Gains Offset By Stress and Reducing Course Time

Scores on state tests are rising, but teachers are stressed as they are pushed to prove their high quality status and feel they must teach to the test. On top of this, about 71 percent of districts report that they must reduce instructional time in other subjects to spend more time on reading and math because these subjects are tested under NCLB.

These are among findings in a recent report released by Center on Education Policy, titled, From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Very clearly, a lot of our members view NCLB as counterproductive to its own goals," says Joel Packer, manager for ESEA/NCLB policy at National Education Association.

Teachers in primarily high poverty and low performing schools are upset to see students are achieving while the school is still considered "in need of improvement," Packer says.

"It's frustration and in some cases, a sense of anger, that education has been reduced to test scores" and scripted instruction, he adds.

And about a third of all districts report they reduce time for social studies "somewhat to a great extent" to make more time for reading and math, while 29 percent reduced time in science and 22 percent did so in art and music. "What doesn't get measured gets pushed aside," says Christy Guilfoyle, public policy specialist for ASCD.

"When you look where our economy is going, it's more than reading and math," adds Dan Fuller, ASCD's director of public policy. "It's time we look at the whole child."

Wisconsin Joins Connecticut

Claiming the federal government is only providing 5 percent to 8 percent of total educational funding under No Child Left Behind and is dictating teacher qualifications as well as student achievement, Wisconsin is joining Connecticut in fighting the law in court.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager recently joined in the case of Pontiac School District vs. the U.S. Secretary of Education, a case that argues that the federal government cannot impose unfunded and costly educational mandates to state and local governments through NCLB.

The case is being appealed in U.S. District Court in Michigan.

Joel Packer of National Education Association says that the federal government's funding authorizations for NCLB since 2002 have fallen short by $40 billion. Critics contend that figure was merely the goal or ceiling. But Connecticut alone has seen a $46 million shortfall in funding since 2002, Packer adds.

Growth Models Vary

Eight of an initial 20 growth model submissions by states have proceeded to the peer review process and were to be reviewed for recommendation in May.

The U.S. Department of Education has claimed that growth models could not undermine the goal of student proficiency by 2014, but it's a way for states that are "already raising achievement" to strengthen accountability, according to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Peers were to evaluate the states' proposals and make recommendations for approval last month, upon which the secretary will decide which states to approve for a growth model pilot.

The Education Trust reviewed the proposals, saying in part they are concerned. "While the plans under consideration represent a good start, they all have room for improvement and some pose serious concerns," says Ross Wiener, policy director at Education Trust. "In the end, we hope that states that are allowed to use growth models also will serve as pioneers in providing better interventions and school improvement plans."

The Education Trust notes that: Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Oregon want students on a proficiency path within four years, which the Education Trust says is too long.

India's Trip Creates Push for Collaboration

Upon returning from her trip to India, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said the Asian country has fire that America lacks.

"There is absolutely a hunger in their system and a strong and high degree of value for education and, in particular ... in math and science," she stated in a recent teleconference.

"[There's a] kind of lack of fire in the belly here that you see very strongly over there," Spellings added.

33 states claim 90-99% of core classes have highly qualified teachers, meaning under NCLB, they hold a bachelor's degree, state license, and are competent in the subjects they teach.

She proposed in part that there be a collaborative effort whereby a delegation of presidents of U.S. land grant institutions meet with Indian government officials, in education, in agriculture or in higher education. The U.S. institutions were founded around the idea that through extension services, water and food would be available for everyone. And India's needs are so acute in agriculture. "I think they think this is an enviable model and maybe a first place to go to engender a higher ed institutional partnership between us and them that would be a winner on both sides," she stated.

Loopholes Create Big Concerns

A recent report showing nearly two million students' test scores-including many minority students' scores-are not being counted in NCLB provisions has some education advocates saying schools are exploiting a loophole to escape penalties.

According to previous published reports, some states are not reporting the scores of minority, special education, ESL and economically disadvantaged students if they comprise subgroups in the schools that are so small that their numbers are statistically insignificant. That number varies from state to state with California exempting subgroups of less than 100, Texas exempting students in subgroups less than 50 and Maryland exempting only subgroups under 5. The states have gotten approval for the schools' exemptions from the federal government.

"It doesn't make any sense to have different states setting different standards," says Michael Petrilli, vice president for policy at Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

On top of the students left out, only about a fourth of the nation's schools have reportedly been making AYP. "States are required every year to raise their standards. As that bar is going up, a lot of people expected that 80 percent of schools would be failing to make AYP, but that hasn't happened," Petrilli adds. "You could read that as students are learning so much more, but the honest reason is states are finding ways through loopholes to let schools off the hook."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has said that the U.S. Department of Education must do more to make sure such students are not excluded. She did not offer details, but said it would come up during the law's reauthorization next year.

Daria Hall, senior policy analyst for Education Trust, says the federal government should have clearer standards for subgroup exemptions. "Many states have set these 'N' sizes so large that it's no longer about validity or reliability. It's about political considerations and finding ways to insure more schools make AYP,'' says Hall. "These huge sizes that allow big groups of students to go uncounted should not be allowed."

Federal and state officials say while the subgroup scores aren't counted, the students' scores are not ignored. "There are standards and performance safeguards built in that can evaluate those small groups,'' says DeEtta Culbertson, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. - Fran Silverman