President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Minnesota would be one of 10 states to receive a reprieve from the federal education law No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
In exchange, Minnesota would have to outline new, “bold” reforms to improve teacher effectiveness, grade school accountability and close the achievement gap in social and ethnic categories.
“My administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility,” Obama stated through a White House-issued press release. “If we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone.”
Minnesota requested a waiver from the law in August 2011, laying out a plan in its place to reduce the achievement gap found in assessment tests over the next six years. This news is pleasing to the Superintendent of Dennis Peterson.
“The sooner we can get rid of the No Child Left Behind requirements, the better off we’ll be,” he said. “There’s a little mixed bag, as we don’t know what hoops we will have to jump through with the state.”
The movement, led by Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, uses four measures to determine school performance: current tools such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, Adequate Yearly Progress measures, a year-over-year measurement of student growth and school district graduation rates.
From those measurements, three school designations will be created. Schools scoring in the bottom 5 percent will be designated as “Priority Schools,” where the state will focus on developing and implementing a turnaround plan for that school or district.
The next bottom 10 percent of schools, as measured by the state, will be tagged as “Focus Schools.” These schools will be asked to work with their respective school district and the Minnesota Department of Education to identify achievement gaps and create plans for improvement. Schools in the top 15 percent, identified as “Reward Schools,” will be recognized at the state for their work and asked to share best practices.
The Minnetonka School District will be one of those identified in the top, according to Peterson.
“We’ve already been sharing our best practices—we’re happy to do that,” he said.
Just this week, a team of researchers from the New Albany School District in Ohio visited Minnetonka. After studying 40 high-performing school districts across the nation, they selected Minnetonka Public Schools for their Benchmarking Study. Their study will attempt to answer what in Minnetonka leads to high-performing student results. The Ohio district will then use what they’ve learned as a model for their own district.
The next step in the plan tied to this waiver will be to create guidelines for schools. Peterson wants to see "some legislation to get this all cleaned up.”
“I’m a little concerned about the lack of process here," he said. "The legislative body does their job, the executive does their job and the judicial does their job. And when we have the executive branch doing the legislative branch’s job in some areas, it’s problematic.”
Minnetonka has had a couple years where a few subgroups of students didn't meet the progress under NCLB. One or two students can make the difference, according to Peterson.
No Child Left Behind, according to Peterson, focuses on mediocrity instead of quality, categorizes children in ways that conflict with district needs, hurts enthusiasm in schools and can produce numbers that can cast failure on schools otherwise working hard for success.
“Ultimately, if they kept the 2014 deadline, almost every school in the country would fail to meet the requirements,” said Peterson. “There are lots of reasons why 100 percent is an unachievable goal.”