By Nichole Dobo
Delaware might be among the states that ask to forgo rules of the federal No Child Left Behind Act under a policy announced Monday by U.S. Department of Education.
Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said she supports the federal government's intent, but Delaware officials and the community need to learn more about it before they sign on. "It's a conversation that we are going to have as a state," she said.
To be excused from meeting the federal goals of 100 percent proficiency on math and reading tests at all schools, states must agree to reforms supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the White House. The changes U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the administration envisions include several reforms already under way in Delaware, such as evaluating educators and increasing the rigor of statewide assessments.
"We are interested in states that are actively trying to get better," he said Monday.
Under current law, each state sets test score goals that ramp up every year on the way to reaching total proficiency by all students in 2014. As the goals have increased, so have the number of schools labeled as failures. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 80 percent of schools nationwide are on the verge of failing to meet federal goals.
This pressure has lead to states "dumbing down" standards in order to help schools meet federal goals, Duncan said.
In Delaware, standards and rigor on the statewide examination increased this year. The test scores dropped significantly. At the state board of education meeting in August, board members expressed concern that in the coming years almost all the state's schools would fail to meet increasing federal test score targets.
In the 2009-10 school year, 192 Delaware schools received ratings under the No Child Left Behind Act. Of them, 54 percent were labeled as failing to meet "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind standards. The state expects to release the results for the 2010-11 school year by the end of this month.
Gov. Jack Markell expects that Delaware schools will have many education reforms in place by 2014 that will help more schools succeed, a spokeswoman said. Delaware earned $119 million in extra federal funding through a four-year federal Race to the Top grant. In applying for that grant, the state agreed to many reforms supported by President Barack Obama's administration.
Congress has been working for four years to reauthorize the 9-year-old federal law. Duncan cited Congress' recent gridlock as part of the reason that the administration planned this bypass.
"Right now Congress is pretty dysfunctional," Duncan said.
The administration's waivers "could undermine" congressional efforts to change No Child Left Behind, John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who chairs the House education committee, said in a statement. Kline said he will be monitoring Duncan's actions "to ensure they are consistent with the law and congressional intent."
Kline's committee is working on a series of bills to change the law. They include promoting the growth of charter schools -- privately run public schools -- and cutting spending by eliminating half of the federal education programs under the current law.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper said that Congress must act in a bipartisan way to change the law. He supports an approach that would address five key components: accountability, school turnarounds, teachers and leaders, innovation, and equity in resources.
"Education reform is an issue that we can, and must, do on a bipartisan basis, and I urge my colleagues to focus on the areas where we agree," he said in a statement. "Ultimately, we must work together to transform our K-12 public schools so that fewer students drop out and those who do graduate are able to read, write, do math, use technology, and go on to become productive members of our society."
Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and Senate education committee chairman, said he still hopes the Senate can produce a "comprehensive bill" reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.
"That said, it is undeniable that this Congress faces real challenges reaching bipartisan, bicameral agreement on anything," Harkin said in a statement.
No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 by former President George W. Bush. Under the law, schools also must demonstrate yearly progress on math and reading tests or risk losing federal money. Each year, states release lists of schools that fail to meet these goals. The law requires that every students in all public schools be proficient in math and reading by 2014.