The No Child Left Behind law has a catchy name. Who could possibly be against the promise that all students should do well in school?
The Lake Wobegon fantasy played well, and in 2001 the Congress passed, on a bi-partisan vote, and President Bush signed, NCLB. States had until 2014 to achieve the lofty—and as it turned out wildly unrealistic—goal of all students being proficient at grade level in math and reading, as measured by standardized tests.
Well 2014 is almost here, and not surprisingly, no state is going to make the grade. That’s why West Virginia, and just about every other state, is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.
West Virginia got its waiver Monday, becoming the 37th state, along with the District of Columbia, to get out from under the onerous regulation.
That’s a relief. No West Virginia school would have met the 100 percent proficiency standard, triggering sanctions, the possible loss of funding and even more federal control. The regulatory morass of NCLB would have become even more entangled.
The waiver does not let West Virginia schools off the hook. The state still had to get approval for its own system of evaluating schools and students, and the new accountability should be more effective than just labeling a school as a success or failure.
Under the new system, schools will be evaluated on various criteria, such as individual student improvement, gaps between different groups of students and the quality of instruction. Based on the results, schools will be ranked as highly effective, effective, needs improvement or targeted for support.
Also, teachers are going to be more thoroughly evaluated. Currently, teachers are reviewed only for the first few years, but beginning next school year every teacher will be evaluated regularly. West Virginia started the evaluation program as a pilot project two years ago, but it had to implement it across the state in order to get the federal waiver.
Governor Tomblin and education officials are chipping away at the stubborn bureaucracy. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed the education reform bill which, among other things, empowers local schools to hire the most qualified teacher for a position, rather than just the person with the most seniority.
And now the state is getting out from under at least a portion of the impossible federal burden of NCLB. School Board President Wade Linger, who has been one of the key players in the shift, sees progress.
“The whole idea of allowing teachers to teach (with) local control is really happening,” Linger told me.
We can only hope. A top-down system from Washington was never going to work, and the pie-in-the-sky 100 percent proficiency for all students in NCLB is a classic example of the failure.