Commentary: No Child Left Behind Act – How a federal law is failing schools

Diana White
Diana White

As the new school year approaches, school districts across Washington state are struggling with the federal requirement to send a letter to families, which includes an option for parents to transfer their child to a different school. Many parents may be confused about why this change is happening in some of our schools in the Edmonds School District.

This requirement comes as part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The federal government gives a sizable amount of money to school districts to support the education of struggling students and then uses this as leverage to force states and districts to comply with the federal school rules or risk losing these funds. NCLB is obsolete and unreasonable, as acknowledged by lawmakers and educators alike — the federal law is broken and here’s why.

The goal set by Congress in 2001 as part of NCLB is that 100 percent of students pass grade-level standardized tests by 2014. While a great goal, when just one student out of the 100 percent doesn’t pass one test given once during the school year, is not an accurate measure of student growth and achievement. Imposing sanctions based on this is misguided and simply absurd. Not surprisingly, in Washington state, it is projected that nearly every one of the state’s 2,286 schools (with more than 30 students) will not meet Adequate Yearly Progress this year based on these federal rules.

Congress has not acted to re-write NCLB since 2007, when it became clear the law was an unreasonable measure of our schools. Over that period, 42 states applied for waivers as a temporary measure until the law was fixed. Washington State had a waiver from NCLB for two years, and we were making great progress under that waiver. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has the misguided power to attach strings to granting waivers to states. In response to one of these federal strings, specifically requiring the state to tie standardized state test scores to teacher evaluations, the Washington State Legislature chose to not comply. There is strong research to support the position that using state test scores is not a valid or reliable method for judging teacher quality. Still, our state’s punishment for not complying with this federal requirement was to have our state waiver rescinded, thereby reviving the old NCLB law that everyone agrees is severely flawed.

Spend time in our schools and you will see many dedicated students, parents, teachers and staff working toward a common goal of each student learning, every day. Our graduates are prepared for college and careers. Our district has nationally recognized programs in journalism, robotics, STEM and music, and an engaged community who supports our bonds and levies. Make your own determination of whether your school is meeting your child’s needs before considering transferring your child to another school. You know what’s best for your child and whether or not they are in a positive and successful learning environment.

Congress and our elected officials need to get to work eliminating or fixing NCLB. However, with partisan gridlock affecting Congress, it’s fair to predict that NCLB will not be addressed any time soon. Meanwhile, to keep receiving the needed federal funds, our district will continue to send a letter at the start of school, spending at least $20,000 to produce and mail a message that is misleading to parents and distracting from the important work happening in schools. The district will also lose flexibility of over $550,000 earmarked for instructional services for our neediest students. Instead, these resources are reserved to cover transportation costs and tutoring services from non-district, for-profit providers. Partisan dysfunction is adversely impacting our education system and wasting taxpayers’ dollars.

Call, email or write your U.S. Congressmen and women. In the Edmonds School District boundaries, your U.S. Representatives are Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott or Suzan DelBene. Our U.S. Senators are Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. Let them know this federal law is failing our children and that there is important work to address the real issues in public education.  Our elected officials need to hear loud and clear that our schools and children can no longer be used as pawns in a political game of chess.

– By Diana White
President, Edmonds School Board of Directors

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