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No Child Left Behind flexibility a smart move for Massachusetts

By Keith Spencer

keith@nobomagazine.com

MASSACHUSETTS — President Barack Obama announced yesterday that Massachusetts was among ten states that will receive flexibility from the mandates of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

In exchange, the Commonwealth has agreed to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness. The President said the reform was long overdue, and is simply a one-size-fits-all intervention that is driving the wrong behaviors, and his couldn’t be more accurate in his analysis of the situation

While he still called upon Congress to fix the law in a bipartisan effort, this waiver and the other nine granted will allow districts across the nation to prepare all students for college and career readiness. Flexibility in exchange for reforms is simply a smart move for Massachusetts.

So, what does this all mean? For Massachuetts? For its teachers and school districts? Or most importantly, for its students?

A key provision of NCLB calls for 100 percent proficiency on the MCAS in both English and math by 2014. Currently, 80 percent of schools and 90 percent of districts are not on track.

Under the waiver granted yesterday, the 100 percent proficiency requirement will be replaced with the goal of cutting the achievement gap in half by 2017. The President commended the Commonwealth on this goal during his press conference on Thursday. All schools will also develop and implement plans for improving educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students.

To get flexibility from NCLB, the Commonwealth also had to adopt and develop a plan to implement college and career-ready standards as well as create a comprehensive system of teacher and principal development, evaluation, and support.

The accountability system had to include factors that went beyond test scores, including principal observation, peer review, student work, and parent/student feedback. It must also recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains.

In the end, rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools must be in place.

While schools will no longer be labeled as needing improvement, in corrective action, or in restructuring due to NCLB requirements, Massachusetts adopted an accountability system two years ago that grouped schools in different performance categories based on MCAS results.

Forty schools have been categorized as “underperforming”, making them eligible for state and federal money as well as empowering administrators to make academic and staff modifications.

So the name-calling isn’t necessarily going anywhere just yet.

What we do know is that this change is not perfect. There will still be micromanaging at all levels. There will still be goals that must be met, and consequences for not doing so.

The reality is that these relaxations to underfunded and unrealistic mandates will allow states like Massachusetts to set higher, more honest standards that will empower teachers to explore methods and interventions that prepare students for the twenty-first century.

We are working each and every day to make reforms that are seriously improving a system that has been flawed, underfunded, and under appreciated for far too long.

Like any job, teachers and principals should be held accountable for making sure the system improves and produces the best products possible. Under these reforms, we will be.

Rather than direct us from Washington, the decisions about how to best meet the needs of our students should be left up to the qualified men and women you entrust your children to each and every day.

And finally, they will.

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The preceeding article was written by Keith Spencer, and represent his opinions only.

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