COLUMBIA — Education leaders in Columbia have a "wait and see" attitude about proposed changes to the current No Child Left Behind Act.
After eight years in action, the act is facing changes that would reward high-achieving schools and toughen consequences for low-achieving schools.
On Monday, Congress received President Barack Obama's plan to implement sweeping changes to the country's education policy, removing some mandates of No Child Left Behind and adding more. Congress must pass the plan for any changes to be put into place.
The current No Child Left Behind Act evaluates a school’s success by adequate yearly progress reports based on standardized test scores, with the end goal being that 100 percent of students will achieve grade-level proficiency by 2014.
Obama said the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which No Child is the current incarnation, would recognize the need for federal government to play a leading role in the encouragement of reform and standards, but changes will primarily stem from states, school districts and schools.
"I think in Columbia, we are always striving to improve our schools, and we aren't waiting for the law of the land — in this case No Child Left Behind — to force us to make improvements," said Sally Beth Lyon, Columbia Public Schools chief academic officer.
Obama's proposed "Blueprint" includes the following changes:
- Schools deemed "excellent" or showing significant progress would be rewarded through increased aid dispersed through grants for which the schools must compete.
- All students should graduate from high school ready for college and a career by 2020, replacing the 2014 grade-level proficiency goal.
States would be required to intervene in schools with achievement problems: The lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools would be required take aggressive action, including replacing principals, replacing staff or closing. The next-lowest 5 percent would be placed on a warning list and expected to take major steps to improve. The 5 percent of schools with the widest achievement gaps would be required to reduce disparities.
“We were expecting to see a much broader effort to truly transform public education for kids," he said. "Instead, the accountability system of this ‘blueprint’ still relies on standardized tests to identify winners and losers."
Jack Jensen, Columbia assistant superintendent for elementary education, said: "For the federal government to come in and say that they know what is best for every school, I see a problem with that."
Sanctions of the current act include the federal government changing curriculum, replacing staff or taking over control of the schools not meeting the yearly progress goals.
"When it comes to the sanctions part of No Child Left Behind here in Columbia, Missouri, I don't think that that has led to improvement," Jensen said. He also said that he thinks improvements could be made if the funding used for sanctions could be used to provide better educational opportunities at low-performing schools.
"You can walk through schools that are designated 'failing' and find good teachers and incredible learning taking place," said Columbia Missouri National Education Association President Susan McClintic. "I don't think 100 percent of anything should be expected, particularly from children."
Jensen, McClintic and Lyon said they were all waiting to see what changes the government may end up implementing.
McClintic said she looks forward to the future meeting of leaders of the National Education Association and the Obama administration.
"I have a wait-and-see attitude on what will happen in Washington," Lyon said. "What is proposed is sometimes different than the result once it's gone through the legislative process."