Bowen: At least one more year of No Child Left Behind

By Steve Mistler, Sun Journal
Posted Feb. 13, 2012, at 3:29 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will adhere to the provisions in the No Child Left Behind law for at least another year.

State Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Monday that the state will work within the guidelines of the frequently criticized law while crafting a new school accountability system.

The announcement, which Maine made jointly with New Hampshire, comes a week before the Feb. 21 deadline to apply for waivers with the U.S. Department of Education.

Bowen indicated that while Maine shares the frustration of other states with the 10-year-old law, a delayed response from the federal government and the need to draft a comprehensive accountability system from scratch compelled the state to withhold its application.

“We are not going to rush into this,” Bowen said in a prepared statement. “We’re going to take the time to do it right and involve all the right people.”

Bowen added that the state’s desire to leave No Child Left Behind was shared by other stakeholders, including teachers, parents and administrators.

“They want a system that lets people know how their schools are doing and helps struggling schools to improve, without stigmatizing them,” Bowen said.

The joint letter with New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia Barry was sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It said that the two states agreed with Duncan that states needed more flexibility to create their own accountability standards, however, the timeline to develop “waiver guidelines will not work in New Hampshire and Maine, a common reality for numerous states.”

Last week Duncan and President Obama announced that 10 states had received permission to begin leaving the federal law. However, some of those states were granted conditional approval because their new accountability systems needed additional tinkering.

The 10 states had a head start over Maine because each had developed an accountability standard, also known as a state report card, before No Child Left Behind was implemented more than 10 years ago.

DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin last week said Maine had never had an established accountability system and essentially needed to build one from scratch.

Department officials indicated Monday they knew building a system would be difficult, but had initially hoped the federal government would respond quicker to requests for feedback. In a release sent Monday, the department said it took two months longer than anticipated to receive input from the federal government about a way forward.

Bowen added that the department also wanted to better involve stakeholder groups. That, he said, wouldn’t have been possible before the Feb. 21 deadline.

Maine was one of 39 states that last year signaled its intention to receive waivers from No Child Left Behind. It presented a survey in December showing overwhelming support to replace the law’s accountability standards to measure school and student achievement.

Some of the standards under consideration include dropout rates, data from teacher, parent and student surveys and improvement on state tests.

The department said more than 500 responded to the survey, which was sent to teachers, students and administrators.

“There are a lot of data there, and lots of ideas about how to hold schools accountable while providing them the support they need to improve,” Bowen said. “We have been stuck with a system that was designed by people who don’t know Maine’s schools. So we are going to take the time to do serious and real outreach and collaborate with parents, teachers, professional associations, administrators, legislators and others. We cannot hurriedly create a new plan in Augusta and force it on schools and expect it to be embraced.”

Bowen said he was disappointed that Maine would remain under the provisions of No Child Left Behind for another year.

The program is often criticized. Opponents say it requires teachers to focus too much on preparing students for standardized tests and measuring student achievement based on testing benchmarks achieved by different students the year before.

Bowen said the plan Maine develops will recognize high-performing schools and help low-performing schools without getting stigmatized.

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http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/13/education/bowen-at-least-one-more-year-of-no-child-left-behind/ printed on July 23, 2014