Journey of a Superintendent: Freed from No Child Left Behind

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of Schools

Freedom is such a powerful ideal that when we achieve it, we want to celebrate, and it becomes a day we will always remember. As a nation, we just celebrated Independence Day, July 4. Many African Americans and others celebrate Juneteenth, the day (June 19) in 1865 when news of the emancipation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas.

July 19 will never rise to those levels of significance, but I know there will be many in the education community here in Kansas who remember it because it was the day we learned that the state of Kansas has received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. For educators, parents and students, this is a big deal.

NCLB was a well-intentioned law, and many in the education community, including me, supported its goals. It began with the idea that if schools were to really be considered public schools, they should be expected to serve all students well. Prior to NCLB, even in well-performing schools some students were being left behind. Sometimes it was students of color, or students who spoke English as a second language, or perhaps students who came from low-income families.

NCLB required schools to report data by subgroups such as gender, race and ethnicity, language of origin and special education status, and it required schools and districts to raise the academic achievement of each of those groups to certain predetermined levels. This was a good thing, because students who were previously being left behind finally began to get some attention.

However, there were some parts of NCLB that felt punitive, and had negative consequences. As standards got increasingly higher, more and more schools began to fall under NCLB sanctions. By 2014, schools and districts were expected to get every student to proficiency, and eventually, virtually every school was going to fall short. And though the goals were laudable, the sanctions for not meeting them were harmful to school improvement efforts. Sanctions that forced districts to give crucial funds to external providers who lacked either any meaningful accountability measures or any requirement to align their work with the district’s goals, curriculum or accountability measures, made it harder for those schools to improve. So did the provision that allowed parents to move their child(ren) to other schools, further draining resources from a school that was trying to improve.

In any event, these punitive accountability measures are gone. Happily, schools and districts will still be held accountable, but with support rather than with punishment. What is particularly gratifying for us here in KCK is that our moves to insure that our students graduate from our high school ready for college and careers are echoed in the waiver that the state received. We raised the bar for our students by seeking and receiving a waiver from the United States Department of Education to use a more rigorous test, the ACT, as our accountability measure. We did this to make sure that we knew our graduates were ready for college. Now, the state has made “college and career ready” its goal as well.

Now, when teachers and administrators hear me say: “Pay attention to what really matters, the tests that are aligned with being college and career ready (the MAP for grades 3-7, the EXPLORE for grades 8 and 9, the PLAN for grade 10 and the ACT for grade 11) and don’t worry about the less rigorous Kansas Assessment Tests,” the state’s successful waiver request will back me up.

Yes, we have been freed from the most onerous aspects of No Child Left Behind, while still being held accountable for improvement. After quite a few years of difficult challenges for education in Kansas, this is very good news!

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