Tuesday, Jun 5, 2012
Arkansas Seeks Waiver from Federal "No Child Left Behind" Law
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LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas education officials have applied to the federal government for a waiver from requirements in the No Child Left Behind law. They hope to get a favorable response to their application within a few weeks.
Last week eight states were granted waivers from the act, bringing to 19 the total number of states that have received some form of waiver from the law. Arkansas is among the other 18 states that are in the process of seeking waivers from the federal law, which was enacted in 2002.
Since its enactment the No Child Left Behind law has caused controversy among local schools because much of their federal funding is tied to raising test scores of "subpopulations" and eliminating the achievement gap between the groups.
Subpopulations could be white students, black students, special education students, those for whom English is not their native language and low-income students. A subgroup would comprise 40 or more students.
Education officials in many states have voiced concerns that the goals of the No Child Left Behind law are impossible to achieve. They say that good schools are being labeled as "failing" because some of their students are not scoring at proficient levels on standardized tests.
Two years ago 38 percent of the schools in the United States were categorized as failing under the standards of No Child Left Behind.
The federal secretary of education has estimated that within a few years, 80 percent of American schools would be listed as failing to reach their goals.
The federal Department of Education has been working with states that want to replace the requirements of No Child Left Behind with different standards that are still ambitious but more fair to local schools.
Even if it receives a waiver, Arkansas will probably have to continue identifying schools that need help in raising test scores. Also, Arkansas schools will still have to show consistent progress in bringing students up to proficient academic levels.
Schools with low scores would be identified, as would schools with a large achievement gap between the highest scoring category of students and the group with the lowest scores.
Neighboring states that have already been granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind are Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Pulaski County Desegregation Case
A federal court has ruled that the North Little Rock School District is "unitary," which means it has substantially desegregated its schools. The Little Rock School District also has been declared unitary.
The ruling is important for state government and for all school districts in Arkansas because the state is paying the three Pulaski County districts about $70 million a year to achieve desegregation. Attorneys for the state have asked the federal court to relieve the state from its financial obligations in the long-running case.
The third school district in Pulaski County is the Pulaski County Special School District, which is beset by financial problems and has been taken over by the state Education Department and been listed as being in fiscal distress. It has 17,000 students who mostly live in the parts of the county outside the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock.