Thursday, December 19, 2002


A Nebraskan concerned about Nebraska's Alice in Wonderland standards and assessment system for K-12 public schools fired off a poison pen letter to the feds, asking them to look in to it. Here is the reply she received, and check out the flaming paragraphs near the end:

"Thank you for contacting the United States Department of Education regarding No Child Left Behind (NCLB). We welcome your comments and support, and I am placing your email in our comments database which is periodically reviewed by the Secretary and senior staff.
"NCLB represents a sweeping overhaul of Federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the United States and is a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of our nation's schools.

"The new law is based on four basic principles:

-- stronger accountability for results

-- greater flexibility for States, school districts, and schools in the use of Federal funds

-- more choices for parents of children from disadvantaged backgrounds

-- and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been demonstrated to work.

"The programs in NCLB have as their goal the education of all students, including students who are economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, disabled, migratory, residing in institutions for neglected or delinquent youth and adults, or members of other groups typically considered 'at risk,' so that they can achieve to challenging content and academic achievement standards.

"States developed and implemented a plan for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this fall. AYP is an individual state's measure of yearly progress toward achieving state academic standards. It sets the minimum level of improvement that states, school districts, and schools must achieve each year.

"NCLB raises the bar of expectations for all students -- especially those ethnic groups and those disadvantaged students who are falling farther and farther behind and who are most in danger of being left behind. States start by defining adequate yearly progress -- the measurements of academic improvement a school must achieve to ensure that, at the end of 12 years, every student graduating will have a mastery of the basics.

"Schools that have not made state-defined AYP for two consecutive school years will be identified as needing school improvement before the beginning of the next school year. Under the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the precursor to the No Child Left Behind Act, each state was responsible for developing state content standards, assessments and definitions of AYP.

"In each state, schools that failed to make state-defined AYP for two or more years were identified as in need of school improvement. States reported the numbers to the U.S. Department of Education this past spring. Immediately after a school is found to be in need of improvement, officials will receive help and technical assistance. These schools will develop a two-year plan to turn around the school and corrective action will be taken.

"Some of the corrective actions for failing schools include public school choice, supplemental education services, and restructuring of the school if the school is in corrective action for four consecutive years. Restructuring includes: reopen as charter school, replace principal and staff, contract for private management company of demonstrated effectiveness, state takeover, or any other major restructuring of school governance.

"Secretary Paige and the U.S. Department of Education are concerned about the implementation of the NCLB across the country. I am including an excerpt from a letter Secretary Paige sent to the Chief State School Officers in October expressing his concerns:

"'Unfortunately, some states have lowered the bar of expectations to hide the low performance of their schools. And a few others are discussing how they can ratchet down their standards in order to remove schools from their lists of low performers. Sadly, a small number of persons have suggested reducing standards for defining "proficiency" in order to artificially present the facts. This is not worthy of a great country. I hope these individuals will rethink their approach for the benefit of the students in your states.'

"'The law is meant to spur improvement, encourage reform, and inspire new initiatives so that every boy and girl learns.

"'Thus, it is nothing less than shameful that some defenders of the status quo are trying to hide the performance of underachieving schools in order to shield parents from reality.

"'Not only is this political tactic an embarrassment, it undermines the public's trust in education as a cornerstone of freedom.

"'In order to ensure authentic school reform, our nation must raise the bar of expectations. Every child can learn. Every child must learn. And thanks to this bipartisan law, every child will learn.'

"The entirety of the letter is online at http://www.ed.gov/News/Letters/021022.html.

"For more information on No Child Left Behind, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/asst.html.

"If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us again.


Sharon Stevens, Information Resource Center"

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