March 02, 2004

Wyden, Castillo Unveil Proposals to Improve "No Child Left Behind" Law

"Listening sessions" with parents, teachers, school and community leaders result in five-point plan for improving Federal school rules

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo today unveiled a five-point proposal for improving the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The proposal is synthesized from the concerns and suggestions of parents, teachers, school and community leaders; Wyden has held numerous "listening sessions" on NCLB across Oregon in recent months and during her first year in office, Castillo visited 35 school districts in the state and gathered feedback on NCLB. Today's joint proposal is the result of these two efforts and will be sent directly to the U.S. Department of Education, which has the power to make changes to the law administratively. If the Secretary of Education fails to act, Wyden will introduce legislation in Congress to change the law. Areas that Wyden and Castillo have targeted for improvement include fairness in student testing and school ratings, teacher recruitment and retention, and parental involvement. "Many people I heard from are distrustful of the No Child Left Behind law, and some want to mend it while others would prefer to scrap the whole thing and start over," said Wyden. "While I understand the distrust, I don't think we should walk away from this critical battle before it has started. We have an obligation to our kids to fix the parts that need fixing, demand the full funding promised by the president and Congress, and get on with the challenge of improving our schools." "I have been clear in my support for federal resources and programs to help Oregon close the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students," Castillo said. "As we work to implement the law, it is also clear that there are some technical obstacles. There are parts of NCLB that are simply not good for Oregon students." The Wyden/Castillo initiative is designed to address the law's least workable provisions and enhance its benefits for Oregon children and schools. Proposed improvements to No Child Left Behind are as follows: 1. Make School Assessment More Fair Through Composite Scoring In implementing NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education has required a highly complicated scoring system that sometimes unfairly labels schools and districts, and the law mandates the same consequences regardless of the degree of improvement needed. For example, an Oregon school could face serious consequences even if it meets or exceeds 59 out of 60 scoring criteria. The Wyden/Castillo proposal calls for a fairer measure of a school's performance. States should have the flexibility to design and use a scoring system that generates a composite score that more accurately reflects a school's successes and problems. Schools that do not meet target scores in specific areas would still be identified, but as "in need of improvement," helping schools direct resources to specific areas that may need to be addressed and still giving parents the information they need to assess a school's performance. 2. Recognize the Unique Challenges Facing Rural Schools NCLB fails to take into account the unique challenges facing rural schools. While the education law requires teachers to be "highly qualified" in each core subject of teaching, rural teachers are often required to teach several subjects, making it difficult for these teachers to meet the limited federal definition. Additionally, some NCLB-mandated remedies are difficult for rural schools to provide. Alternatives such as school choice options required by NCLB may be impractical due to the distance between rural schools. The Wyden/Castillo proposal would provide rural schools with additional flexibility in meeting teacher qualification and school choice requirements. States could change their Highly Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE), which outlines teacher qualification requirements, to make it easier to attract and retain teachers in rural schools. Rural schools also should be given alternate means of meeting the requirements of NCLB when school choice is unworkable. 3. Create a National Teacher Workforce Strategy NCLB missed the opportunity to provide a real workforce strategy to help schools find, hire and keep teachers at a time when teacher shortages plague poor and rural schools. The Wyden/Castillo proposal calls for the development of a comprehensive, coordinated strategy to promote teacher recruitment and retention in poor and rural schools. A coordinated workforce development strategy could include pay incentives coupled with scholarship and tuition waiver programs. 4. Involve Parents in the Process NCLB authorized Parent Information and Resource Centers to inform parents about how the new education law would work for their children, the alternatives available if a school does not make adequate yearly progress (AYP), and what additional resources (e.g., tutoring) schools are required to provide. Unfortunately, the president's budget for the coming year terminates the program. Schools are also penalized when parents choose to opt out of otherwise mandatory NCLB testing. The Wyden/Castillo proposal calls for funding the Parent Information and Resource Centers and for the creation of parent training workshops to help families take full advantage of the choices and services allowed by the law. Additionally, schools and districts would not be penalized if they subtract students from test participation totals when the student's parents or guardians opt out of the testing. 5. Provide Improved Instruction for Special Populations Too often, NCLB-mandated tests that attempt to measure the math, science and reading skills of non-English speaking students (English Language Learners, or ELL students) are in fact testing these children's English proficiency; students who cannot understand a math test written in English cannot hope to pass it. Additionally, ELL teachers often instruct a group of students in every subject, making it nearly impossible for these teachers to meet the requirement of proficiency in all of the subject areas a teacher instructs. In order to best measure the math, science and reading skills of ELL students, the Wyden/Castillo proposal would encourage schools to test ELL students in their native language or to use English proficiency tests that would hold the schools accountable for helping these students learn English in their first three years in school. ELL teachers would receive greater flexibility in meeting teacher qualification standards that require proficiency in every subject the teacher teaches. School districts would also receive incentives to provide any necessary supplemental services to ELL students. "Parents want accountability and high standards for their schools, but in a way that works for their community and their child," said Wyden. "This proposal contains common-sense ways to fix and build on the foundation of Leave No Child Behind so that parents and teachers can focus on providing students with the best education." "I am a strong supporter of high standards for our students and of holding schools accountable for creating success for all students," said Castillo. "To accomplish the goal of No Child Left Behind -- every single student meeting high levels of academic achievement -- we must have adequate funding and more flexibility for schools." In addition to his proposal with Superintendent Castillo, Wyden will also continue to pursue full funding of the No Child Left Behind Act. The White House announced in January that Title I, the largest single NCLB component, which provides assistance to the poorest school districts, will be underfunded by $7 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. The Leave No Child Behind Act promised to provide Oregon with an addition $200 million in FY05, but the president's budget actually contains $69 million less for the state.[1] Wyden has voted for full funding for No Child Left Behind since its enactment in 2002; however, the president has never requested full funding of his centerpiece legislation.