District 202 school board members are advocating change in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation as Evanston Township High School teeters on the brink of restructuring under the law.
In an effort to initiate change, the school board began drafting a resolution that outlines ways NCLB can become a stronger piece of legislation at Monday night’s meeting. The resolution will then be forwarded to members of the Illinois congressional delegation as they consider the reauthorization of the NCLB act, which could affect schools like ETHS that face restructuring.
"It was I who suggested that we need to get something to our legislators to let them know what it was that we did not like about No Child Left Behind," said board member Mary Wilkerson. "If we sit back, chances are it’s going to be reauthorized. If it is reauthorized, we want to have some input and not wait until it’s done and say that was a problem for us and [we] didn’t do anything."
ETHS has fallen below federally-defined Adequate Yearly Progress standards five years in a row.
District 202 administrators say another year of failing results will trigger penalties that could force the school to reopen as a public charter school, replace all or most of its staff, enter into a contract with a private management company, or implement another restructuring program with fundamental reforms.
"We need to take the two things separately. One is letting our legislators know what we feel about No Child Left Behind," Ms. Wilkerson said.
"There’s another discussion that I think we need to have. What are we doing to make sure our students meet or exceed the standards. What are we doing to prepare our freshmen, what are we doing to prepare our sophomores, what are we doing with our current juniors?"
The district’s concerns about NCLB include the fact that it determines AYP by students’ performances on a single test; it is under-funded and puts additional budget burdens on schools; and it has the unrealistic expectation that 100 percent of students across the country will be meeting test standards by 2013-2014, according to the district administration.
"Putting the entire onus of the burden on the under-funded school to meet the AYP numbers and then not providing any guidance, any assistance…is to me irresponsible at best," said board member Omar Khuri.
When asked about what isn’t being funded by federal dollars at ETHS, Judith Levinson, district director of research, evaluation and assessment, said that she couldn’t give an exact dollar amount.
"There is a lot of time in terms of setting up supplemental services, working on high quality teachers, doing the paperwork…all those equate to dollars, time, and quite intensive labor," she said.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is requesting that Congress correct the flaws in NCLB before the end of the current session.
But Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, isn’t sure that will happen.
"There are two schools of thought. One thing we are hearing is yes something will happen, but because it’s coming out of a Congress that is controlled by a party different from the president it may be something that ends up getting vetoed," Mr. Witherspoon said.
"And if that’s the case it probably would end up waiting until after a presidential election."
NSBA said that if the legislation is held up until the presidential election is over, it will not be finalized until 2010.
"That will mean that the current program could apply–with all its flaws–for as long as the 2010-2011 school year," said a NSBA report on NCLB. "Meanwhile, the bar for meeting AYP will continue to rise and unfairly identify more schools and more school districts as failing while others move further down the progression of overboard sanctions."
The board will continue discussing the resolution at its next board meeting.