Media Archive

Superintendents weigh in on 'No Child Left Behind' Act

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 24, June 11, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

MILO Maine's schools do not fit the model laid out by the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act.

State officials, supported by both the Maine Senate and House of Representatives, last week applied for and were denied a waiver of the federal law.

The law requires each school to develop and implement assessments of all students in each grade level, to prove that all students are proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Many say the law does not provide adequate funding to cover the labor costs to complete such a feat.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins reacted Monday by urging the federal government to "live up to its financial commitment and adequately fund these new mandates."

Local school districts are struggling to develop the assessments, as required in the federal law, on limited budgets, without shifting the financial burden to local taxpayers. Superintendents in Greenville, Milo, Dexter ,and Dover-Foxcroft agreed that the assessments portion of the federal law does not fit into the state's traditional educational equation. They so believe the state will suffer, under the federal law, because the Maine Educational assessments (which test students in grades 4, 8 and 11) hold students to a higher standard than those in other states.

Last January, Penquis Valley High School's eighth grade was labeled a "priority school," per the No Child Left Behind standard, due to test;scores on the MEAs. SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker said that the priority school status did bring about $19,000 in federal dollars to the district, and the district is making, headway on implementing a new math program.

However, Walker believes the state's current assessments are adequate and hold schools accountable for the education of Maine youngsters. He said more tests does not necessarily mean a better education.

"This is creating a great deal of work for teachers and administrators, and a lot of paperwork in the central office," Walker said.

He said the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented and aimed to require "poor, lower-performing urban schools" to be accountable for the education of every child. The law, in essence, gives schools that are named to the priority list time and money to implement new programs and bring grades up &Mac247; or else. If unsuccessful in raising the bar, students attending the school can chose to attend an alternative school in their community.

Maine clearly does not fit the mold, local superintendents agreed.

"These standards just don't fit with rural Maine," Walker said. "We aren't afraid to be held to a higher standard, and we don't deny we have room for improvement, But I don't believe there should be one prescription for the entire nation."

He compared the mandate to the special education law: "It makes sense to pass it, but who's going to pay the bill?"

In Greenville's Union 60, Superintendent Steve Pound said that the state's seeking of a waiver "is a positive step." He classified No Child Left Behind as an un-funded mandate, which he did not see a reason for, as the state already has its MEAs and Maine Learning Results.

"We're still trying to rneet the Maine Learning Results, stiil trying to do more with less," Pound said.

He agreed that the mandate is pertinent mainly to larger states and schools, which have the resources and personnel to develop state or schoolwide assessments.

Pound also said that the state's MEAs test students at a higher level &Mac247; raising the bar, while also making schools more susceptible to priority school status.

"These un-funded mandates are causing considerable problems; there's the paperwork involved, and can you provide the programs ? They cost money," he said.

He also believes the more federal mandates come down the line, as the No Child Left Behind Act, local control in the schools dwindles.

"The only thing we have local control over any more, is we get to pay for it," said Pound. "I don't think this is anybody's hidden agenda; the requirements look good, they sound good, but it takes money, resources and time. If [the federal and state governments] tell you, in the end, what you need to assess, they've told you what you need to teach."

Pound's comments were echoed in part by SAD 68 Superintendent John Dimbauer, who said he supports the state's seeking of a waiver for the federal requirements, but he did not agree that the mandates are, wholly un-funded,

SAD 46 Superintendent Lester Butler also said the mandates are not completely un-funded &Mac247;although they may be under-funded. He said the district that serves Dexter, Exeter and Garland students receives about $500,000 a year from the federal government.

That money goes to support the Title I program, reading recovery, professional development activities, tutoring programs, class-size reduction and curriculum revision.

Butler agreed that the assessments are not funded, and that they do require a lot of extra work on the part of staff and administrators.

"I am concerned. I think the majority of the act has been written for much larger districts than what we have in this state, and some of the criteria is going to be difficult for us to address in small districts, and even as a state," he said.

And, although Sens. Snowe and Collins are fighting the ruling, seeking full funding of the $490 million to assist states in meeting testing requirements. Butler said he does not foresee the federal officials from ever waiving Maine from the No Child Left Behind requirements. "I don't think that will change,'' he said.

SAD 46 staff and administrators continue to work on developing and implementing testing in all grade levels, much as educational professionals are doing statewide. The first deadline that schools are facing comes in the 2003-04 school year, with the requirement of assessments in math, English and language arts.

Meanwhile, school budgets for the coming year are being finalized. Butler said that each school district now must recognize &Mac247; and prepare for &Mac247; the impact the assessments could have on school budgets.

"We have to realize, as we develop our budgets, what our local taxpayers are able to fund and use those federal funds that do come in the best way we possibly can to meet the mandate," he said.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.