For the past two years, the federal government has allowed Utah to waive key parts of the No Child Left Behind law. Now that waiver is up for renewal and the state board of education is questioning if it should instead go back to the largely unpopular law.
Utah accepted the waiver in 2012, but in exchange was required to come up with its own plan regarding teacher evaluations, school accountability and student achievement. Many in the education community, including state school board member Debra Roberts agree that No Child Left Behind, proposed by George W. Bush in 2001 was basically unsuccessful.
“NCLB tells us exactly how we are to determine everything,” Roberts says. “How we are to determine everything from an accountability standpoint. If any of you had actually functioned under NCLB and seen one of those pieces of paper, the forty little boxes and knowing that one box was determine that a school was a failing school, how offensive to all of us.”
If the state does forego the waiver and returns to NCLB, most of Utah’s schools will be labeled as failing this year because the law requires every student be proficient in reading and math by 2014. So why would the state go back? Board Vice Chair Dave Thomas says there are more federal entanglements with a waiver than with the law itself and the waivers may only be temporary.
“There’s no guarantee that they’re going to be around for a long period of time and you may have to go back to NCLB anyway,” Thomas says. “We can also still use everything that we’ve done and believe in. From UCASS to Sage to our standards and we can use them as we see fit.”
After hours of heated debate, the board voted to postpone the decision to renew the waiver until its next meeting on August 8th. The deadline is August 30th. If Utah does go back to NCLB, state lawmakers will have to reallocate money for programs they weren’t paying for under the waiver. That could mean asking the legislature for more than 20 million dollars in additional funding next year.