Archive for Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Left behind: Educators try to catch up with new bill

December 4, 2002

Basehor-Linwood School District officials and those across the state are trying to determine what impact a new federal mandate the No Child Left Behind Act will have on schools.

"At this point, we don't quite know where we are," school district superintendent Cal Cormack said.

"We don't know yet enough about the impacts. We don't know how to respond," he added, citing that the district has put together a panel of teachers and administrators to study the effects and implementation of the new law.

No Child Left Behind is a re-authorized, reformed version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The reformed version was signed into law Jan. 8, and since then, school districts have been scrambling to learn its effects.

The idea of the complex and lengthy legislation seems to be that every school is held accountable for their education system and student progress.

Holding teachers and schools accountable for education is nothing new. However, the reformed bill places tougher expectations on teachers and schools for better student performance.

This is accomplished through expanded testing of all grades and grading school districts on yearly student performance, among numerous other provisions.

"The bottom line is you have to keep demonstrating progress," Cormack said.

And if that progress hasn't been shown for two consecutive years "consequences would then kick into place," he added.

The new provisions and consequences make educating students an even more difficult task, said Dr. Alexa Pochowski, assistant commissioner for the Kansas Department of Education.

"The hardest part is the assumption that 100 percent of the kids will be at a proficient level in their grades," Pochowski said. "Everyone learns at their own paces. It's not that schools aren't already working, it's that there will now be a uniform level that everyone will have to reach."

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education added a new wrinkle.

Last Tuesday, it was announced that students attending failing schools would be allowed to transfer to another school at the expense of their previous school.

Also part of the announcement is that no student can be turned away by schools for lack of capacity.

"What's new in the law is that district must now pay for (the transferring student's) transportation," Pochowksi said. "A school that is full now has to take anyone."

In addition to schools adding the transfer students, another crux of the new law is that the bill is an unfunded mandate, said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

"It is going to cost more to accomplish these things and there is no additional funding," he said.

An example of the funding dilemma would be an employer giving an employee more stringent responsibilities without a pay increase, he said.

"The premise of the bill seems to be we're not trying very hard as educators," Tallman said.

"We certainly agree with the goal. What we disagree with is the way the law makes you go about accomplishing the goal because it may be counterproductive."

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