Missouri districts find No Child Left Behind waiver attractive option

Sami Pathan

In August United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced plans to implement a waiver system to allow individual states to opt out of the student testing mandates from the ten-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act.
This followed years of outcry from states about the ineffectiveness of the law’s regulations.
Echoing the same sentiments, President Barack Obama announced in a speech Sept. 23 that states would receive more freedom regarding elements of the NCLB law. The announcement could affect millions of children if states agree to create their own standards for improvement.
“We are pleased to be able to consider such a waiver, but it is too early to say whether the state of Missouri will apply,” said Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro in a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education news release. “We remain absolutely committed to accountability, but we believe the outdated NCLB accountability system is broken. The need to fix it is urgent.”
According to a 2010 study by the Programme for International Student Assessment, education levels in the United States have fallen dramatically in recent years, signaling a need for reforms to the system. Critics of the law say certain benchmarks are often unrealistic and brand certain schools as failures even if they make progress. This can lead to the firing of teachers and even the closing of schools entirely.
“The biggest problem with [NCLB] is really that it forces teachers to teach to the test and meet benchmarks set by the federal government that, for some schools, are unreachable,” wrote Michele Clark, communications coordinator for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in an email interview. “The consequences of not meeting the goals can be incredibly severe; teachers can get fired and schools can be shut down.”

Though the Missouri Department of Education is in favor of waiving its right to the law, things are far from concrete. However, the department does have its own school improvement and accountability program, the Missouri School Improvement Program Five.

Depending on legislative work within the federal government, the MSIP Five in addition to the Missouri Assessment Program may become the educational standard for the state.

“At first glance it appears the waiver could support our state’s high standards and accountability principles,” Nicastro said in the news release. “We are already establishing a framework to push toward excellence, reduce gaps in academic achievement and ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Barring any surprises in the fine print, it may be a good fit.”

RBHS social studies teacher Matt Dingler said the change from NCLB to a state-sponsored standard is positive because of the restrictions the law imposes on schools and teachers. For some schools, teaching to the test has become a normality to meet the sometimes unrealistic requirements set by the law.

“I feel that [NCLB] really traps schools into it by making them pursue the wrong goals. And if they don’t meet these goals which are often unattainable, they’re penalized,” Dingler said. “The intentions were good, but I think, as is the case a lot of times, you have people making these laws that know very little about education. They’re politicians, not educators.”
By Sami Pathan