State gets flexibility on its education standards

Friday, February 17, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Along with nine other states, last week Tennessee was granted a waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools director Roy Dukes announced this during his director's report at the school board meeting Feb. 9, though most board members had already heard it on the news.

"After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility," President Obama said at a press conference last week. "We're giving 10 states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them."

Under the deal, the states must show they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.

Tennessee proposes to raise overall achievement by 3 to 5 percent each year and to cut achievement gaps in half over an eight-year period.

The Adequate Yearly Progress and NCLB report cards will be gone, Dukes explained, but getting the waiver is not going to make things easier for Marshall County educators.

"We're going to achieve growth for all students each year," Dukes said. "We're going to close the achievement gap by ensuring faster progress for those who are farthest behind. It can be done, but it's going to take a lot of work."

Dukes told board members that our teachers will be zeroing in on the common core standards, in preparation for the 2014 start of common core assessments.

According to the Web site, "the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt. These standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce and that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them."

Tennessee's new plan for education, the replacement for NCLB, will spotlight the schools that are doing great, and Dukes saw this as an opportunity for some of our schools to be "blue ribbon" schools.

School leaders from across the state are scheduled to attend a meeting on Feb. 21 in Nashville to receive additional information from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Dukes also told board members that he had heard next year the state's Basic Education Program (BEP) might include funds for coordinated school health and the safe schools program.

Less popular news from Nashville for directors of schools was Gov. Haslam's proposal to increase class sizes.

"That would make it very difficult for teachers to teach," Dukes said. "The majority of the directors oppose it."

Within a week, Haslam withdrew the proposal, indicating it might be brought up next year.

The states that applied for, and received, the NCLB waiver by the first-round deadline are Tennessee, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. New Mexico applied in time, but is required to make changes to its plan before a waiver is granted.