Decrying the state of American education, President Barack Obama this morning said states will get unprecedented freedom to waive basic elements of the sweeping Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, calling it an admirable but flawed effort that has hurt students instead of helping them.
Obama's announcement could fundamentally affect the education of tens of millions of children. It will allow states to scrap the requirement that all children must show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014 — a cornerstone of the law — if states meet conditions designed to better prepare and test students.
While discussing the proficiency of Havre Public Schools’ students a few weeks ago, Assistant Superintendent Tom Korst said that the tests do not provide an accurate demonstration of Havre schools.
“While I think it’s a good thing, it is one day, one test, ” Korst said. “I think over time we will become more sophisticated in how we track this. ”
Havre Superintendent Andy Carlson offered similar thoughts on the 9-year-old education policy.
“I do not believe there is an assessment built that can tell us everything we need to know about a child, ” Carlson said. “I can’t subscribe to the belief that we will judge what a child knows or is based on one test. There is no problem with reporting to the public about what we are doing, but the problem is how we do that.
“I feel extremely confident about what we’re doing. As a parent I feel good about what my children are learning every day. ”
The president also took a shot at Congress, saying his executive action was needed only because lawmakers have not stepped in to improve the law for years.
"Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education."
Carlson said that he felt federal action in this area will be “interesting to watch, to say the least.
“I am hopeful they will listen to educators and we will see a more balanced approach, ” Carlson said.
An example of the current lack of balance in the law that Carlson sees is in graduation rates, where a penalty is imposed on districts that take an extra year to graduate a student. Carlson thinks the focus should be on doing what is best for students, not making sure that their work fits rigidly into the 13-year window in which students are supposed to learn.
"I don’t know why a school or district is penalized for doing the right thing for kids," Carlson said. "If it takes a kid five years, but he gets through high school, that’s a good thing."
This was a part of the presentation by Jamie Vollmer, an education reform advocate that Havre Public Schools brought to Havre last month. Vollmer said that holding the time of an education as an absolute results in a range of quality of education. If the focus was on quality, allowing students whatever time they need to meet those standards, then everyone benefits, Vollmer said.
Under the plan Obama outlined, states can ask the Education Department to be exempted from some of the law's requirements if they meet certain conditions, such as imposing standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.
Despite allowing states to do away with the approaching 2014 deadline, Obama insisted he was not weakening the law, but rather helping states set higher standards. He said that the current law was forcing educators to teach to the test, to give short shrift to subjects such as history and science, and to even lower standards as a way of avoiding penalties and stigmas.