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A Vermont High School Opts Out of NCLB
HARDWICK - Hazen Union School is apparently now out of reach of what has been widely regarded in Vermont as an 800-pound gorilla, the
federal No Child Left Behind law.

Rebecca Young, superintendent of the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, said Tuesday she decided in June not to apply for Title I
federal education funds for grades seven though 12 in the district.

Title I covers education improvements, and is the chief funding source that underpins the controversial education law. Schools run
the risk of losing Title I money if they fail to comply with the law's improvement requirements, so foregoing any such support in the first place solves a problem and will cost the school little.

Young said Hazen used only about $10,000 in Title I money in the last school year anyway, and estimated demand for the funds would be
even lower this year. She said the money would be diverted to elementary schools in the district.

The No Child Left Behind law is an issue because Hazen is on the state's so-called "technical improvement" list. The law mandates that schools not performing up to state standards meet certain improvement benchmarks or be sanctioned. The law applies only to schools receiving Title I money.

The sanctions are specific and severe, including (for the current year) staff replacements, curriculum change, reduction in management authority, using outside experts and internal reorganization.

Sanctions for the 2004-2005 year could be to reopen Hazen as a charter school, replace the administration, contract for private management of the school, have the state take over the school or some other restructuring of school governance.

Young said she informed the Hazen School Board of her action - which was to target other grade ranges for Title I funds - and they approved, though they were not required to vote, she said.

Hazen will stay on the state's improvement list.

The school's most recent accountability review -as measured by performance on 2002 assessment examination scores - show that it missed its chance to exit the technical assistance list by a mere nine points. It needed to reach a "status index" of 325, but achieved just 316 on the department's scale of progress.

Young said she has had some problems for some time with the federal law, especially the timing of its demands for improvement in
assessment scoring. She said the law's "cascading set of consequences" for not meeting improvement goals was not helping
improve education. The law, she said, "...doesn't give us time to show the results" of any improvement strategy. Hazen is in the midst of a long-term plan to meet student needs and to improve assessment
test scores.

The No Child Left Behind law is superimposed on the state's own tough education standards, and the federal mandates keep changing.

Young said last year the federal law uses each state's own standards as benchmarks, but Vermont's accountability standards are high
enough that they become a virtual trap for schools struggling to improve. She emphasized education change takes time and Hazen,
despite a focused effort, isn't quite where it needs to be. She characterized the No Child Left Behind approach as "punitive rather
than supportive," and added some state education authorities share her attitude about the situation.

Board members at the time agreed Hazen should continue its near-term focus to keep schoolchildren at the center of improvement efforts.

The state has the results of the most recent assessment exams, which were given this spring, but the scores have not been validated and
will not be released until sometime in October.

Young said the rest of the district's federal funding is not affected by opting out of Title I for Hazen Union. She said there were other good financial reasons to forego the money, as well.

Attempts to reach state Department of Education officials were unsuccessful.

— Steven Wallach
Hazen Opts Out of NCLB
Hardwick Gazette



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