Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Federal law sets an unrealistic measure of success for the nation’s schools

Since its passage more than a decade ago, the federal No Child Left Behind Act has frustrated educators across the nation. In its attempt to raise educational achievement, it made success virtually impossible.

High standards are good, but the law takes a one-size-fits-all approach. A school that fails to meet any one of the 45 measures is considered to have failed. By 2014, all schools must fully meet math and reading standards.

As Karoun Demirjian and Paul Takahashi reported in Tuesday’s Las Vegas Sun, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that more than 80 percent of the nation’s schools are on track to be “failures” this year under No Child Left Behind.

The Clark County School District was put on the federal Education Department’s watch list last week because 61 percent of its schools failed to achieve what the law calls “adequate yearly progress.”

The consequences for failing schools can be severe, including the removal of staff, and that’s harsh considering the standards just aren’t reasonable.

This week, Duncan said he would waive the law’s requirements for states that come up with better proposals to improve student achievement. The waiver will be in place until Congress resolves its impasse over reauthorizing the law.

Lawmakers haven’t been able to come to an agreement over the law, nor have they changed its rigid demands. Instead of working with Democrats to find ways to craft sensible policy, Republican leaders in the House have pursued legislation that would take money away from programs that help a variety of students, including those who are poor, Native American or learning English as a second language.

Things in Washington aren’t expected to change soon — Congress is in recess this month — so any type of agreement to deal with the underlying problems of the law is still weeks away.

“Congress didn’t act. It should have acted; we can’t afford to sit here and not help the states,” Duncan said. “Our move can be a bridge or a transition ... people are begging, they’re imploring us to do that right thing.”

Nevada is expected to apply for a waiver, but there are no guarantees. Last year, the state failed to win funding in the Education Department’s Race to the Top program, which offered money to states with innovative plans.

However, Duncan said his department wants to work with states and help them, saying he is “really interested in those states that are trying to get better.”

That’s good news because the Nevada Legislature did make some changes in the law this year designed to improve education, including plans to make it easier to fire bad teachers. The state is also evaluating a new model to measure and track student achievement, and it promises to give educators valuable information that could help boost student achievement.

Duncan’s offer to give waivers is welcome. The states should be seen as incubators for innovation in education, and it will give them the freedom to focus on educating students instead of meeting unrealistic goals.

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