CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings urging changes to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress for the first time since President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2002. The letter comes on the heels of comments made by Secretary Spellings where she hailed NCLB as nearly perfect, saying specifically “There’s not much needed in the way of change.” NCLB has been widely criticized by state governments, local communities, school boards, principals and teachers charged with meeting its goals and implementing it policies since its implementation.
“While I share the goals and intentions of No Child Left Behind, for those of us who have to live with, implement and enforce the law, to say that it is nearly perfect is simply not accurate,” Gov. Blagojevich wrote. “Changes are needed to ensure that accountability under NCLB is both effective and provides an accurate representation of student performance. While NCLB is far from perfect in its current form, with the proper changes, it can do a much better job serving schools and students.”
In his letter to Secretary Spellings, the Governor recommends five areas for improvement. They are:
· Flexibility for State Implementation of NCLB Goals
· Measuring Student Progress and School Achievement
· Addressing Student Needs
· Assisting Struggling Schools
· Supporting Highly Qualified Educators
Flexibility for State Implementation of NCLB Goals
The Governor believes that No Child Left Behind imposes too many details on states for carrying out NCLB goals, the consequence of which is the stifling of innovations and reforms at both the state and local levels. The Governor also criticizes the uniform standards for assessing student progress. He specifically points to the differences between urban and more rural communities, which vary greatly in student composition and needs.
“NCLB reauthorization,” the Governor says, “should embrace accountability plans that meet the spirit and broad goals of NCLB while allowing flexibility for differences among school districts, prior achievement levels, or the unique learning needs of individual students.”
Measuring Student Progress and School Achievement
One of the biggest concerns among educators is how student progress is measured. Currently, NCLB provides benchmarks on what students should know by certain grade levels. The problem that creates is significant. By measuring what students know as opposed to how much they have learned in an academic school year, schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students can be labeled as failing, even if their students are making dramatic progress. That is why the Governor supports a Growth Model plan that would provide both state and local education agencies with a clear picture of student progress and reward gains against a school’s prior year performance.
Addressing Student Needs
Another concern among special education educators in particular is that NCLB does not provide for special assessment of students with special needs and directly contradicts other Federal doctrine and policies, such as those established in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Whereas NCLB requires all students to progress at similar rates, IDEA acknowledges individual students progress at different rates. Whereas NCLB requires assessment based on student age, IDEA provides for individualized instruction and assessment based on ability. Whereas under NCLB, test scores measure the progress that each student makes, under IDEA, an Individualized Education Program team defines each student’s progress.
Multiple studies conducted by organizations such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities and The Advocacy Institute have shown that high-stakes testing cannot accurately address special needs assessments of students with disabilities. While that does not mean that schools should not be held accountable for demonstrating progress in special needs students, the Governor believes more sensible methods should be used, such as those outlined in IDEA
Educators of students with limited proficiency in English also deal with similar challenges as those with special needs students. For that reason, the Governor also encourages similar changes for them.
Assisting Struggling Schools
Among the chief concerns of NCLB is funding. The Federal government created No Child Left Behind without providing funding to states and local communities for implementing NCLB. This unfunded mandate has put strains on already strained state and local education agencies struggling to maintain their schools, find new, good teachers to meet the growing population of students, and acquire new technologies and resources to better prepare their students. Consequently, the Governor believes that NCLB reauthorization should provide funding to struggling schools striving to improve.
Supporting Highly Qualified Educators
The Highly Qualified Teacher provisions of NCLB are ambiguous and require clarification. The Governor supports an assessment or High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge necessary to reach students, and in particular, teach various subjects to special education students.
Illinois is committed to the goal of making sure all students have access to highly qualified teachers. The Governor’s administration is currently working on a plan to meet that goal, and he hopes that the Federal government will make changes during the NCLB reauthorization that will help Illinois recruit and build better teachers, as well as meet the other challenges educators have encountered while trying to meet the goals of NCLB.