Iowa educators react to No Child Left Behind changes - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa educators react to No Child Left Behind changes


Friday morning, President Barack Obama announced a major overhaul to the No Child Left Behind Act -- essentially ending the decade-old law as we know it. States now have the ability to opt out of the federal mandate, but they will have to prove they have a solid plan for improvement in place.

"Keep in mind the change we are making is not lowering standards, we're saying we're gonna give you more flexibility to meet high standards. We're gonna let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to get our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future," President Obama told a crowd of educators and students in the White House.

Just hours after the President's announcement, several state education leaders made it known they will seek a waiver to NCLB, including Iowa's Director of Education Jason Glass.

Glass said he will apply for a NCLB waiver next year, which means it will take effect in the 2012-2013 school year.

"We support and appreciate Secretary Duncan's efforts to improve this law," Glass said. "Iowa plans on responding to the calls for designing new school accountability systems. We will work with the major groups involved with education in Iowa and state policymakers to design a plan that makes sense for us over the long term. This work may begin before the end of 2011."

Local educators aren't entirely clear how the waiver will impact their classroom at this point, or how it might change things in the future. Jeff Thompson, a science teacher in Dunkerton Community Schools, said he doesn't focus on NCLB in his classroom. He focuses on students.

"I enjoy being there when an idea or concept finally gets across, or when they have success," Thompson said.

He doesn't need a high score on a test to know when a kid is successful. But for the past ten years, NCLB has required teachers, districts, and states to follow strict guidelines for evaluating student achievement.

"No Child Left Behind has done some very positive things for groups of students who were often overlooked, like kids with disabilities and kids in poverty," said Glass. "However, measures it prescribed to decide which schools were succeeding or failing were too narrow. Student achievement should be central, but we should also look at student growth and other aspects of schools beyond tests to see if they are successful for kids."

Superintendent of Dunkerton Schools, James Stanton, agreed with Glass.

"I think the intention of it was good. I just think, there were a lot of things in there that, from a practical standpoint, or from a small school standpoint -- an Iowa standpoint -- they weren't real practical," he said.

The one-size-fits-all testing, and the paperwork that along goes with it, are among the flaws cited by educators. But, in Dunkerton, they've followed the plan for one simple reason.

"In all honesty, for us, they have a $7 million carrot that they hold out in front of us," said Stanton.

Assuming Glass follows through on a decision to opt out of NCLB, the state -- and Dunkerton -- will have more flexibility with federal education funds. But first, Iowa needs to lay out its plan for reforming K-12 education.

"When we know more specifics, then we'll start to look at what we're going to do, and maybe get a little bit excited. But right now, it's hard to," Stanton admitted.

Thompson, for one, has heard the call for reform before. He hopes, this time, change is made by the right people.

"You just hope the people that have the most knowledge, the most interest are the ones that have the chance to make the final decisions on this. Parents and students and teachers... and not politicians in Washington," Thompson said.

Last year, more than 500 Iowa schools failed to meet NCLB targets in reading and math. In order to receive a waiver, state leaders will need to submit a comprehensive plan for improvement to the U.S. Department of Education.

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