published Sunday, August 14th, 2011

‘No Child’ waivers drawing criticism

Virtually no one seems to favor the current No Child Left Behind law, yet not everyone seems willing to throw it out entirely.

National opposition has surfaced following this month’s announcement from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that some states will receive waivers from the current law and its punitive sanctions. Some say the waivers could create even more headaches for states and school districts, while others warn that a waiver could result in the elimination of a program that provides valuable tutoring for at-risk children.

That could affect more than 700,000 students nationwide who participate in tutoring under No Child Left Behind. An official with the Hamilton County Department of Education did not provide a local number by press time. An estimated 800 students in Hamilton County signed up for tutoring in 2007, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam asked the federal government last month to exempt the state from No Child Left Behind because of its recent reform efforts. It is expected that many more states will follow suit.

In a letter to Duncan on Wednesday, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, representing more than 100,000 members collectively, opposed the conditional nature of the waivers.

Duncan has said the waivers will be granted in exchange for certain reforms. He’s identified three areas as important in states’ waiver considerations: high academic standards, state-developed accountability systems and teacher evaluation systems.

“The types of changes required by the administration require fiscal, personnel and political capital that may be impossible for some states to pull together,” the joint letter from AASA and NSBA states.

Both organizations agreed that No Child Left Behind should be reauthorized, and changed, by Congress.

Tutor Our Children, a coalition of civil rights and social services groups, recently formed to lobby for continuation of the mandated tutoring, which makes districts provide additional tutoring to eligible students in the poorest-performing schools. So far, Duncan hasn’t said whether the tutoring program would remain intact for states that receive waivers.

Many of the included groups, such as the National Urban League and United Farm Workers, profit from the current federal mandate by contracting out tutors to school districts.

Warren Logan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, said the group’s opposition isn’t financially motivated.

“We have a great concern for the education of children, especially those in the urban areas who benefit from this tutoring,” he said. “We don’t want a waiver that throws out the tutoring aspect.”

Dennis Van Roeckel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, released a statement last weekcq calling for more teacher-led reform, instead of making states “jump through more hoops” with the waivers.

“The administration should be leading efforts that support all students and schools by providing real relief from parts of the law that everyone acknowledges simply don’t work,” he said.

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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