States rejecting NCLB Rules, Going it Alone

One by one states are refusing to play by the education rules set by the federal government under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Whether the ‘rebellion’ turns out to be the action of two or three ‘renegade’ states, or the beginning of a much wider revolution is something many education policymakers are watching closely.

On June 29, South Dakota’s Secretary of Education Melody Shopp announced the state will defy NCLB rules by using 2009-2010 goals rather than higher expectations required for the 2010-2011 school year as required by NCLB guidelines. She also notified U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan the state will reduce its graduation rate goal to 80 percent from its current 85 percent.

In a letter to Duncan, Shopp wrote, “Without making these changes, we believe our accountability system, as it currently stands, would inappropriately label schools as failing.” She added, “This situation would eventually trigger a number of NCLB-related sanctions that our department simply does not have the capacity to address.”

South Dakota's announcement follows on the heels of a decision by the Idaho Department of Education to disregard NCLB because the law is “failing,” according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Luna wrote an explanation to Duncan on June 21 that states Idaho will keep its current proficiency targets in place and begin implementing a new accountability model.

“Idaho, like many other states, does not have the luxury of spending time and limited resources on meeting the rigid requirements of an outdated accountability system while we transition to a new one that we all know works better for students,” Luna wrote.

Also in June, Kentucky asked the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver that would allow it to replace the current method for determining if schools are making adequate yearly progress with a new system state officials are in the process of developing.

This so-far mini-rebellion points to a much larger looming issue. Congress has not acted on what many consider a long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the more formal name given to NCLB, which Congress enacted 10 years ago.

In his letter to Duncan, Luna wrote, “Education has changed in the last 10 years, and so must the law.” He added, “The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is overdue by more than four years. There can only be two reasons for this inaction: either Congress doesn’t have the political will, or it simply isn’t a priority of the Administration.”

With three states seeking to defy NCLB, and risk losing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding by doing so, one must wonder whether the push by some to create state accountability measures that are not in conformity with NCLB will result in “No State Left Behind” as others jump on the bandwagon.

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