Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Garofalo proposes super strength state No Child Left Behind law

Just when it seemed that the lunacy of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was about to pass in Minnesota, Rep. Pat Garofalo has proposed a bill that would reinstitute and heighten the very worst features of the law.

Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius pursued and received a federal waiver from NCLB earlier this month. From the very beginning, it was obvious to anyone with a brain that it would be impossible for every student to be judged "proficient" at any point, let alone by 2014. As NCLB's requirements ramped up, the "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) measure caused a higher and higher number of schools to be considered "failing" schools. In 2012, without action, 82% of U.S. schools would fail to meet AYP. In 2011, 1,056 out of 2,255 Minnesota schools failed to meet AYP. That number would have continued to inexorably increase, not because our schools are getting worse, but because of NCLB's escalator effect. In 2011, 34 Minnesota schools were required to restructure because of NCLB.

Garofalo opposed the NCLB waiver, and even sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan opposing Minnesota's application. In an MPR story about it, Garofalo said:
"The bureaucracy doesn't like state law, so they're going to the federal government to invalidate that, and they can't do that." 
So, having failed in preventing the waiver, Garofalo decided to put NCLB into state law. If Rep. Garofalo succeeds in passing HF 2180, the number of schools that would be closed, converted into charter schools, or restructured would roughly triple. It requires that the Education commissioner rank all schools in Minnesota according to AYP, and then require that the lowest 5% schools be restructured or closed. That's roughly 100 schools. Under the NCLB waiver system approved by the federal Department of Education, those 5% of schools are considered "priority schools" that get additional individualized attention from the state. Garofalo would rather gut them like trout.

I think my favorite part of this bill is that of the six things required in a school turnaround plan, number one on the list is that the Commissioner should establish the "terms and conditions of employment." Above anything related to student learning, or student readiness, or professional development, Garofalo's first priority is to void collective bargaining.

There is bipartisan sentiment that No Child Left Behind has failed, that it represented an overreach on the part of the federal government, and that it imposed unmeetable standards on schools and students. But Garofalo would double down on NCLB by requiring that 1 in 20 Minnesota schools be considered "failing."

HF 2180 had been scheduled for a hearing in the House Education Finance committee on Thursday, but the meeting was cancelled. Public education advocates should keep their eyes open for when it reappears.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

(Image credit: T.W. Budig, ECM)

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