Monday, March 21, 2005

Leave NCLB behind

A nice editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune in today's paper:

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a former two-time ambassador and lead U.S. negotiator on deals with Africa, South Asia and East Asia, put his diplomatic skills on the line in Washington, D.C., last week, defending Utah's right to set its own education standards.
He was fulfilling a promise he made to Utah legislators to negotiate with federal education officials over the strict regulations of the No Child Left Behind
We don't know yet if he was successful, but we hope he was. Public education traditionally has been a state responsibility, and rightly so. Standards for schools are best set locally, recognizing unique circumstances.
The goals of No Child Left Behind - to improve learning for all children regardless of race, ethnicity or family circumstances - are not being disputed, as they are also the goals of Utah's
education reforms. However, the federal regulations mandated for all school districts across the country simply don't make sense in all individual situations. Besides, NCLB fails to fully fund the testing and remedial work that it requires.
Utah, like eight to 10 other states that are resisting NCLB, has begun to implement its own reform policies, moving to a system in which students must show they have learned course material, not merely attended class for the requisite
number of days. Utah's plan better fits its situation: overcrowded classes, consistent underfunding and a mix of urban and isolated rural districts.
The Utah Legislature this year was solidly behind a bill to direct Utah education officials to put state policies ahead of the federal NCLB whenever the two compete for funding or contradict each other in practice. It refers to a federal law that says states can't be forced to pay for unfunded
federal programs. Huntsman urged the Legislature to hold off passing House Bill 135 until he could try to get accommodations from federal officials.
If Huntsman can't win more concessions - Utah already has been granted a special dispensation regarding teacher qualifications - the Legislature is likely to pass HB135 in a special session April 20.
We hope it doesn't come to that. But, if it does,
Utah should move ahead with its own plan and leave NCLB behind.

There's obviously broad support in Utah for this potentially remarkable step -- HB 135 passed both houses of Utah's legislature unanimously -- so it would behoove the Administration to back down and compromise on this one. Of course, that's not been their strong suit throughout the first four years.


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