Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final story in a series on No Child Left Behind.
At its meeting Thursday, the Sierra Sands Unified School District Board of Education adopted a resolution urging Congress to fix the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress is considering reauthorization of the act.
According to district officials, school district strongly support standards, assessments and accountability for public schools. While there is great support for NCLB's goals, efforts at implementation have proven that many of the requirements are unrealistic.
"School districts across the state strongly support standards, assessment and accountability for the state's public schools," Supt. Joanna Rummer said. "While there is great support for the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, efforts at implementation have proven that many of its requirements are simply unrealistic."
One of the district's major concerns is that No Child Left Behind established an adequate-yearly-progress measure that conflicts with California's Academic Performance Index.
Another concern is the act requires every public-school student to be proficient in core academic subjects by 2014, and establishes escalating penalties for schools and districts that fall short of that goal.
"However, it is evident that the definition of AYP under the federal system will ultimately result in all schools and districts failing to achieve proficiency by 2014 because it establishes a criterion that is impossible to meet," Rummer said.
Other concerns are NCLB requires schools to ensure a 95-percent participation rate on the state's test and insufficient funding to cover the costs of implementing No Child Left Behind.
Board member Amy Covert said the act is a hot topic for her.
"This is actually one thing we spend a lot of time at the federal impact aid discussing, especially now that reauthorization is kind of settled," she said.
Covert said NCLB is a great concept, but it needs a lot of fixing.
Looking at the resolution, she said the portion addressing English-language learners and special-education students and funding are the greatest concern to her.
"This is an area that I hold a lot of concerns over, and it's something that when we get done and meet with our congressman over federal impact aid, we also bring this up frequently with the English-language learners and special-education students and the absolutely unrealistic requirements that they be proficient by 2014," Covert said. "It's not fair to the students, and it's not fair to the staff to expect that to be able to happen without us receiving the federal sanctions when we don't manage to meet that, and especially if they're not going to give us funding required in order to meet those standards."
Board member Kurt Rockwell said the fundamental goals of NCLB are admirable.
"Closing the achievement gap, introducing more rigorous and higher standards in the classroom, improving the quality of teaching across the profession are all laudable," he said.
"Implementation is another matter. Our country is made of a wide range of cultures, values, and socioeconomic situations," Rockwell said. "That makes it extremely difficult to make a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing education. It appears that the first cut at these improvements has had many positive results. As one might expect, however, there is room for improvement."
He said many organizations, with significant resources, knowledge of the existing act, and the time and energy to offer thorough analyses have published their thoughts. "Most of what I've seen has, to a large extent, been consistent as to the general areas of NCLB that needs to be revised."
Rockwell pointed out that much has been made of the fact that NCLB's process for measuring adequate yearly progress is, at best flawed.
"The fact that the capability of a student in one state having a certain level of skill and ability enables him to meet the proficiency requirement while another student in another state with the identical level of skill and ability could not meet the proficiency standards seems nonsensical to me," he said.
"The fact that significant growth in academic proficiency may be ignored in favor of an arbitrary goal of 100-percent proficiency by 2013-2014, especially when 100 percent proficiency in a student population that includes significant numbers of English-language learners and special-education students is essentially unattainable, seems short sighted. However, we need to be careful. It seems that many of the suggestions being offered promote definition of the progress standards by local, county, and/or state organizations. It seems to me that this is the approach that got us in the situation that required the establishment of NCLB in the first place. We need flexibility, but it needs to be flexibility with oversight."
Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. and The Winston Group recently conducted a national survey of parents of kindergarten through 12th-grade students, as well as public-school administrators and public-school teachers.
Despite the American public's clear lack of knowledge about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the strong misgivings of teachers and school administrators have about the legislation, the public and public school teachers and administrators strongly support reauthorization, the report stated. Only 16 percent of the public and 13 percent of parents of school-age children oppose reauthorization.
The report also stated that despite public-school teachers' and administrators' strong negative views of NCLB, a relatively small number -- 25 percent of teachers and 22 percent of administrators -- believe Congress should not reauthorize the law. The teachers and administrators are clear in calling for major changes in NCLB as it is reauthorized.
The survey shows all groups support high standards of accountability, but they are also looking for more flexibility in how NCLB is implemented, supporting policies that find solutions for poorly performing schools.
According to the survey, 57 percent of the public believes that funding should be increased in all or most cases for schools that perform poorly on state assessments, and 71 percent of teachers and 61 percent of administrators support additional funding for struggling schools. Only 25 percent of the public believes that new administrators should take over in cases where schools are testing poorly, while only 12 percent would replace the teachers in schools that perform poorly on NCLB tests.
"California instituted a system of high standards and accountability before the federal No Child Left Behind Act existed," said state Superintendent of Public instruction Jack O'Connell. "The results of this survey make clear that standards and accountability are now an accepted and expected part of our educational landscape."
He said the state's system sheds light on the achievement gap, and helps the state target resources where they are needed most to help students succeed. "It's also clear that the public supports both greater flexibility for schools to reach the high expectations we have set and greater investments to help them succeed."
O'Connell said these findings are in alignment with the recommendations made to members of Congress for the reauthorization of NCLB.
"In those recommendations, I urged greater flexibility in the law to more fairly and sensibly address the needs of states like California, where established accountability systems are aligned to rigorous standards. I also urged Congress to fully fund the law and make the investment commensurate with our high expectations," he said.
Contact John Ciani at firstname.lastname@example.org.