Sanders pushes U.S. DOE on No Child law
Ohanian Comment: This is connected with Sanders' press released on the subject, to which I take strong exception. Why whine about a little bit of money when the fundamental premise of NCLB, Race to the Top, and the Common Core are so flawed?
Sanders is proud to bill himself as an Independent, but he refuses to take on the Democrats.
by Howard Weiss-Tisman
BRATTLEBORO -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wants the U.S. Department of Education to be more flexible in working with the state to meet the rigid requirements of the No Child Left Behind Law.
With reauthorization of the federal education law stalled in Congress, the Obama Administration last year said states could apply for a flexibility waiver if education departments proved that they were still working toward improving outcomes for all students.
Nineteen states have received waivers but last month the Vermont State Board of Education said it was not going to apply because the so called waiver had many of the same punitive actions connected to test scores and teacher evaluations.
On Wednesday, Sanders met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who promised the Vermont senator that the education department would be willing to talk with the state about making changes.
"The Secretary said he would sit down and talk with Vermont officials and see if a resolution could be reached," Sanders said Wednesday after meeting with Duncan. "I think we have a long way to go but it is a good first step."
Sanders is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and he said there is little hope of Congress making any changes to the No Child Left Behind Law before the November elections.
The law, which is also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was supposed to be reauthorized in 2010.
Sanders also talked with Duncan about the Obama Administration's Race to the Top grant program which Sanders said was unfairly focused on urban districts.
The U.S. Department of Education has so far given out nearly $5 billion in grants, mostly to larger, urban states, Sanders said.
Last November Vermont was turned down for a $50 million early education Race to the Top grant.
According to Sanders, Duncan said the next round of grants will have a special carve-out of $350 million for rural states.
Sanders said the grants, and the No Child Left Behind waivers, both reflect unfair challenges that rural states have to deal with when trying to contend with national education laws and rules that are written in Washington D.C.
"Vermont takes education very seriously and we need support," Sanders said. "Rural America has many of the same problems of urban areas, and when you address problems you have to make sure you are addressing the problems for the whole country."
Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca said the state was willing to reopen its consideration of the flexibility waiver, but only if the U.S. Department of Education was willing to make real changes to its expectations in meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
Vilaseca said the state has already wasted too many resources preparing the application.
"Certainly if Secretary Duncan is willing to talk with us we are more than happy to talk," said Vilaseca. "They want us to evaluate teachers only on test scores, and that should be a part of the evaluation, not all of it. There has to be real flexibility with the waiver."
Meanwhile, Windham Southeast Curriculum Coordinator Paul Smith said schools are moving ahead with their job while Montpelier and Washington figure out the details of the federal education law.
Smith said WSESU schools have used the tests to focus in on the students who need help, and across the district administrators and teachers are using data to move every student forward.
No Child Left Behind says every single child should be performing at grade level by 2014, and educators have been saying from the start that it was an unrealistic and unattainable goal.
Now, with that date just a few years away, Smith says schools need to prepare for life after No Child Left Behind.
"The work is right in front of us. Whatever happens it is not going to substantially change the work we do," Smith said. "We are conscious that there are sanctions that have to do with No Child Left Behind but we are close to reaching the end point, 2014 is right here. It's going to change. It has to."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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