Saturday, April 02, 2005

Tensions increase in standoff over No Child Left Behind


Utah resistance: Letter exchanges, editorial, TV show are among the recent developments
By Mike Cronin

Despite more than a year of working with the U.S. government, the relationship Utah education officials have with their federal counterparts remains frosty over the state's plans to measure student performance and define qualified teachers.
    The dispute stems from differences over how to implement President Bush's education-reform law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
    State Superintendent Patti Harrington said she hoped that the tense dynamics change soon. Yet, a letter she recently received from the U.S. Department of Education indicates the rift remains.
    "At every turn, they're threatening us with the loss of funds," Harrington said.
    Developments in the ongoing saga include:
   * A segment on the PBS program "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" that focuses on the NCLB differences between Utah and the feds will be shown early next week.
   * USA Today soon will publish an editorial lambasting Utah's position on how to define highly qualified teachers - and a rebuttal by Orem Rep. Margaret Dayton, who consistently has argued that education reform is a states' rights issue.
   * At 9 a.m. on Tuesday in Room W135 on Utah's Capitol Hill, the Education Interim Committee will hold a hearing on No Child Left Behind.
   * An April 7 meeting between Utah officials and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will take place in Washington.
    In its letter, the U.S. Department of Education said a state that does not implement a standards-and-assessment system by the 2005-06 school year could lose its funding, be forced into a statutory agreement that requires compliance within three years or receive mandatory oversight status - to ensure compliance is achieved during 2006-07.
    State Office of Education officials mailed a reply on Thursday outlining Utah's criteria for identifying highly qualified teachers in rural areas. In an earlier letter, 20 of the state Senate's 21 Republican senators directly challenged President Bush's NCLB bill. It puts the GOP caucus on record as supporting House Bill 135, which would have given preference to Utah's standards for school and teacher quality.
    NCLB sets criteria for teacher quality and holds schools accountable for improving test scores among students of all ethnic, income and language groups, as well as students with disabilities.
    Utah wants its own accountability system - the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students - to count toward No Child Left Behind compliance.

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