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Vail Valley Voices: Positive transformation

Sandra B. Smyser
Vail Valley Voices
valleyvoices@vaildaily.com

The No Child Left Behind Act is undoubtedly one of the most sweeping and controversial reform efforts of federal education policy in decades.

The legislation, which closely follows the previous president’s agen-da to improve America’s public schools, passed Congress with over-whelming bipartisan majorities and was originally created for the follow-ing reasons: • Accountability for results: Creates strong standards in each state for what every child should know and learn in reading and math in grades three through eight and requires that student progress and achievement will be measured for every child every year.

• Unprecedented state and local flexibility and reduced red tape: Pro-vides new flexibility for all 50 states and every local school district in America in the use of federal education funds.

• Focusing resources on proven educational methods: Focuses educational dollars on proven, research- based approaches that will most help children to learn.

• Expanded choices for parents: Enhances options for parents with children in chronically failing schools – and made these options avail-able immediately in the 2002- 03 school year for students in thousands of schools already identi-fied as failing under current law.

The law mandates schools to improve test scores each year, with an end goal of every stu-dent able to read and do math on grade level by the year 2014.

According to Education Week, President Oba-ma is proposing to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law, replacing the school accountability system that has slapped a failing label on more than a third of schools, including many that made big gains but just missed their annual targets.

Critics of NCLB believe the law creates unreal-istic goals for districts by requiring schools to ensure all students have attained proficiency in core subject areas in an impractical amount of time.

Other opponents think NCLB focuses solely on low-performing students, ignoring the education of every other child in the system.

The renovation to the current law would focus more on schools’ progress as a whole and every student producing growth from one year to the next.

One of the issues with NCLB is directly related to the original Elementary and Secondary Educa-tion Act signed into law in 1965 requiring the fed-eral government to spend more than $130 billion to improve public schools. For too long, federal education pro-grams have come with unfunded fed-eral mandates, one-size- fits- all approaches, and unnecessary and duplicative paperwork.

When the Elementary and Sec-ondary Education Act was reautho-rized in 1994, for example, states were required to regularly test public school students in reading and math; howev-er, this federal requirement did not come with the necessary flexibility and resources for states to focus their edu-cation strategies on what works to improve student achievement.

In outlining the new budget road map, Obama delivers his course of action and priorities for rethinking some of the vital components intertwined in the NCLB equation, including spending, teachers and standards.

Evident in the recent Race to the Top initiative, Obama wants federal education spending more focused in order to encourage states and schools to improve instead of giving districts a set amount of money regardless of their success in educating kids.

Obama intends to gauge teachers on their actu-al ability to increase student achievement and ensure that the lowest- achieving students are matched with educators who are dedicated to helping them turn things around academically.

If the president has his way, tougher academic standards will soon be adopted by states, as well. In the budget proposal, states would be given additional dollars to correlate math and science teaching with higher standards.

While bipartisan work remains to be done before we see the final version of the new and improved No Child Left Behind legislation, we in the Eagle County School District are already well on our way in addressing these key issues.

We measure growth of students annually and have set individual growth targets for every stu-dent in grades two through 10.

By setting an individual target for each child and designing programs to help students reach those targets, we are paying attention to the needs of each student whether they are struggling or high-achieving.

We welcome accountability for student achievement for teachers and administrators, evident in our embedded professional development and pay- for-performance system.

Our state has just adopted new tough state standards for reading, writing, math and science, and we are already planning how to begin using them.

We are in the second year of participation in a state-funded project to implement effective strategies to reduce the achievement gap.

The Eagle County School District is receptive to change and innovation and will continue to use the No Child Left Behind legislation to raise the bar for your child.

Sandra B. Smyser is superintendent of the Eagle County School District.


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