Archive for Thursday, March 11, 2004

Legislation harming local districts with inadequate funding

March 11, 2004

It's becoming more and more apparent that Congress approved a very flawed piece of legislation in the No Child Left Behind Act. The most commented concern is the lack of promised funding for the sweeping education reform act that President Bush signed into law in January 2002. The legislation has been underfinanced since its inception, and President Bush's 2004 budget proposed a $9 billion shortfall from the full funding promised when the act was passed.
Leaving aside funding concerns, recent events in De Soto USD 232 indicate the district is more and more concerned about addressing the concerns of the Washington, D.C., authors of the legislation than responding to local needs.
That development can be seen in something such as a decision as intrinsically local as canceling school for bad weather. No Child Left Behind mandates improvement for attendance for elementary school children, and USD 232 officials worry a poorly attended make-up day could mean the district doesn't make adequate yearly progress.
Perhaps attendance is a concern elsewhere, but in the De Soto district, where attendance rates top 90 percent, elementary school newsletters continually remind parents to keep truly sick and infectious children home from school. At some point, improvement is neither possible nor desired.
The legislation puts schools on notice that all their students must meet proficient levels in reading and math by 2014 or face cutoffs in federal aid. Aside from the fact the legislation -- in the words of De Soto USD 232 Board member Jim Thomas -- unrealistically does away with the left side of the bell curve, it forces school administrators to circle their wagons around the two all-important subjects.
A forward-looking administrator must focus on making adequate yearly progress on the No Child Left Behind's big two. As Thomas noted during the debate on fifth-grade band, there were those who predicted education of the untested fine arts would suffer.
The pressure on the local boards will only increase as good schools struggle to maintain the required incremental steps toward perfection. Patrons angered by coming decisions would do well to remember the source of that pressure. Speaking out to local school boards might earn temporary respite from tough choices.
But in the long term, only Congress can addresses the flaws in No Child Left Behind's that are driving local decisions.

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