May 16, 2007

LOCAL CONTROL BENEFITS IDAHO'S KIDS

By Senator Mike Crapo

LOCAL CONTROL BENEFITS IDAHO'S KIDSGuest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike CrapoAs a parent, it never ceases to amaze me how different my children are. They have different likes and dislikes, different personalities and different goals and interests. It's no surprise that their learning styles vary as well. If five children in the same family require different things in a school setting to help them succeed, then an education system that caters to millions of children from millions of families must have considerable flexibility to meet the needs of many different students. Although federal public education funding plays a relatively minor role compared to state funding (just over ten percent of Idaho's K - 12 public education is funded by the federal government), federal programs and standards must allow individual school districts the utmost flexibility in local implementation. Today, five years after the passage of the landmark education legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have met with many successes: more reading progress was made among nine-year-olds between 1999 and 2004 than in the prior 28 years; and, between 2003 and 2005, the majority of states improved or held steady in all categories of fourth graders tested in reading and math. But, NCLB works the same as any other sweeping legislationâ??real effectiveness can only be determined after a period of implementation. Now, it's clear that improvements are in order. I've been working with stakeholder groups in Idaho and at the national level to identify the most critical components that, with improvement, will help our nation's children. Above all, the federal government cannot be allowed to become what amounts to a national school board. Often, federal funding comes with federal strings attached. These one-size-fits-all solutions are not a good idea. To try to move back in the direction of more local control, I've introduced enhancements under the appropriate name "Improving No Child Left Behind (INCLB)." This legislation preserves the hallmark elements of NCLBâ??student achievement and accountabilityâ??while offering changes to the guidelines and methods by which school districts are assessed. Five years of experience with NCLB has highlighted the importance of flexibility and local control in assessment guidelines and mandates.Some of the elements of INCLB include:â?¢ Supplemental services like tutoring, offered sooner than currently available;â?¢ Flexibility for states to use additional types of assessment models to measure student progress;â?¢ More flexibility for states in assessing students with disabilities;â?¢ More fair and accurate assessments of students with Limited English Proficiency;â?¢ The creation of a student testing participation range, making allowances for uncontrollable variations in student attendance;â?¢ Only applying sanctions when the same student group fails to make progress in the same subject for two consecutive yearsâ??this would allow the schools to better target improvement resources;â?¢ Ensuring accurate student counts in assessment and reporting systems.Over the years, Idaho public schools have sown the seeds for my children's academic, athletic and social achievement and success, by addressing their individual learning needs. The federal government must do all it can to help schools do this, and refrain from enforcing regulations that hinder the process. School districts, like students, find unique paths to success. These styles are developed based on the composition and needs of the local community. It's the job of the Federal government, in its role of supporting a strong public education system, to respect these rich variations and encourage school success by promoting the same. WORD COUNT: 562