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Anne L. Bryant Headshot

What's The Best Way To Run Our Public Schools?

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated that as many as 82 percent of public schools in the United States could be labeled as "failing" under the onerous regulations of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Eighty-two percent--more than three quarters of our public schools, in neighborhoods from rich to poor, with enrollments that may be stable or fluctuating, and demographics that are most likely growing more diverse each year. This has serious ramifications for how our tax dollars are spent and unfairly gives ammunition to those who want to undermine our nation's public education system.

How did we get to this point? In 2002, when this NCLB reiteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was pushed by then-President George W. Bush and many Congressional leaders, we embraced accountability and the idea that all children could reach high standards. We still do.

But even then, many experts warned that NCLB's lofty and rigid benchmarks would not be achievable. The law is inherently flawed--even with the best strategies and intentions, it's impossible that every child in every subgroup in every school will meet the demands for proficiency, in part because of factors beyond a school's control. Further, it is broadly recognized that the current method for determining student success and progress is flawed as well. In the meantime, NCLB's onerous requirements for yearly assessments in math and reading have led to the demise of other important subjects such as arts, music, health, and physical education, and have drained much-needed time and resources in schools' attempts to comply.

Now, even some of our best schools have been dinged by the adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements, which undermine the hard work of millions of educators and students across the nation every day. While we readily acknowledge that many schools need to improve, the law's sanctions and misguided tactics are not helping those schools.

In fact, one of the most ridiculous provisions requires these school districts or schools that are labeled failing to set aside 20 percent of their Title I funds on school choice or supplemental services, which are usually provided by for-profit or outside companies. No research shows these strategies are boosting student achievement for a significant enough number of students to justify taking those funds and resources from the classroom which is where children need them the most.

This law has been due for reauthorization for four years now, but while both parties speak volumes about the need for major changes, the political will has lagged. We agree with Duncan on the need now for Congress to reauthorization a revamped ESEA.

With so many delays in Congress to introduce and pass the ESEA reauthorization, the National School Boards Association is calling on Duncan and the Department of Education for flexibility now in NCLB to allow more financial resources to be used for the critical purpose of teaching and learning.

We need the regulatory relief this summer before school starts, instead of a new bureaucratic process that the Department of Education is purposing that could take many months to create. And as we need this as a matter of policy -- not state or school district case-by-case waivers. We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP requirements, effective for the 2011-12 school year, so that schools currently facing sanctions would remain frozen; no new schools would be labeled as 'In Need of Improvement' or subject to new or additional sanctions.

In the past two years, budget pressures have forced school districts to make significant cuts, some that directly hit classrooms, including teacher and staff layoffs. A recent study by the American Association of School Administrators predicts further teacher and staff cuts of 227,000 school personnel in the coming school year. This comes as NCLB's increases costly reports, data collection, and program mandates forces school districts to take their attention off their core mission and spend time and money to comply with unnecessary regulations.

In essence, schools for the upcoming school year are being forced to lay off teachers and hire data collectors. Does anyone really think that is the best way to run our public schools?