Friday, April 1, 2011

Priorities for Children Should Drive Education Laws

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the annual legislative session of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). While in Washington, D.C., I also took the time to meet with legislative staff. The topic of the meeting and my visits to the “Hill” was reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which also is known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

I have written many times that the intent of NCLB was powerful; however, we now need to push forward with a focus on college and career readiness that 2009’s Senate Bill 1 required. What is great about our position in Kentucky is that we now are leading the reform effort through our work on the Common Core Academic Standards and the work on the next-generation accountability model. It was evident in conversations with key senators, House members, legislative staff and other chief state school officers that there is a great deal of agreement on the components that will replace No Child Left Behind.

President Barack Obama has set a goal that the law would be reauthorized prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has talked a great deal about the need for reauthorization and the focus on college and career readiness. Sec. Duncan also has projected that 82 percent of schools across the nation will not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) this year and thus be labeled as “failing” schools by local media. In Kentucky, our projection is that 87 percent of school districts and 60 percent of individual schools will not meet AYP this year and will be labeled as failing districts and schools by media.

Let me be clear that no one is wanting to lower standards. The push in Kentucky is to raise standards and raise expectations that ALL children will graduate from high school with the skills needed to be college- and/or career-ready.

Now is the time for action. Principals, superintendents, teachers and parents need to be communicating with their Congressional delegation that No Child Left Behind needs to be reauthorized. The following three points will be most effective:
* While NCLB had the right vision, the details of implementation have not been consistent or rigorous enough across the states.
* A reauthorization of NCLB should set high expectations for college and career readiness but leave flexibility to the states on how to meet the goals and expend funds.
* If Congress does not reauthorize NCLB, then states should be allowed to submit new accountability models for rigorous peer review and approval. The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) will review a proposed accountability model at its April 13 meeting – see that model on KDE’s Unbridled Learning page.

The coming months are crucial. At its April and June meetings, the KBE will consider, for approval, the next-generation accountability model. We will need either reauthorization of NCLB or a waiver of requirements to implement this model, which meets the requirements of 2009’s Senate Bill 1.

But most of all, our children are waiting on us to improve their chances for success beyond high school. Thanks in advance for your advocacy.

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