The tide may be turning away from the educational equivalent of high-stakes poker. The emphasis in Washington, D.C., on the ”No Child Left Behind” law is waning, and there seems to be no taste for stopping its slide. Georgia, and another 25 states, have requested waivers from the NCLB requirements and have been granted permission to strike out on their own -- if they follow other federal guidelines to set new standards.
It’s difficult to believe, but NCLB, instead of assuring that all children were proficient, took education out of education. Poor students were still passed along because funding was unavailable to redress their weaknesses. Testing was used to such a degree that cheating scandals occurred all over the country to avoid getting the “Didn’t Make Adequate Yearly Progress” scarlet letter.
With NCLB, school systems had until 2014 to make all students proficient in reading and math. That goal was going to be missed by a country mile. Last year, according to The New York Times, almost half of the country’s schools missed the mark in the 2010-11 school year. But there are several local caveats that must be mentioned. During the recession Georgia balanced its books on the back of education and cut more than $3 billion from schools. Systems all over the state have been reaching into reserves -- if they have any -- to fund classroom instruction. In Bibb County, while the total budget for 2012-13 was slightly more than the 2013-14 budget at $179.6 million, $8 million had to come from reserves. In Houston County, more than $27 million had to come from its fund balance to level its $307 million budget.
And there is another challenge on the horizon. Next school year, new federal guidelines will be in effect. We will be able to compare apples to apples when comparing school system data. Unfortunately, that is making school administrators stay up late worrying about what they know the data says about their systems.
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In Bibb County, there are hundreds of students who have no chance -- unless drastic action is taken -- of having enough Carnegie units to graduate. Combined with the loss of tax digest value and shifting state equalization grants, many Georgia school systems will resemble the underwater housing market -- and so will their students.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board