3 schools exempt from NCLB sanctions

Sunday, November 25, 2007

While all public schools in Cape Girardeau are expected to meet the same requirements, they do not face equal consequences if those standards are not met.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a continually failing school receives sanctions that become progressively more severe each year progress is not made.

What many people don't realize, however, is that those consequences apply solely to Title 1 schools. Only schools receiving federal money are subject to federal sanctions.

In Cape Girardeau, non-Title 1 schools are Alma Schrader Elementary, Central Junior High and Central High.

"Right now Title 1 schools are receiving consequences under No Child Left Behind and schools that aren't Title 1 are simply being labeled as not having met AYP," or adequate yearly progress, said Phyllis McClure, an independent researcher based in Washington, D.C. McClure served on independent review panels for national assessments of Title 1 for nine years.

Every year but one, students at Central High School in Cape Girardeau missed targets on state tests in both communication arts and math. Likewise, students at Central Junior High have never made adequate yearly progress in either subject.

They have escaped sanctions because the district does not allocate Title 1 funds to them.

With this freedom, teachers at the high school have specifically chosen not to focus on the state test.

When the science department underwent a curriculum change in 2005, Pamela Schulte, the department head at the time and now semiretired, said the department made a conscious decision not to concentrate on the Missouri Assessment Program test.

"We wanted to prepare students for higher level science courses and the ACT. ... We have said all along that the MAP test is not a good vehicle to measure success at the high school," she said.

Central High principal Dr. Mike Cowan said he thinks No Child Left Behind legislation is "inherently flawed" and "a complete failure."

"To be honest, most of us didn't take it very seriously. If we were completely out of line with the rest of Missouri, we would be worried. We can compete on that ACT any time, any place," he said.

That attitude toward the MAP contrasts starkly with the attitudes of other principals throughout the district, where there is a do-or-die mentality.

Referring to non-Title 1 schools, Franklin principal Rhonda Dunham said, "They still feel pressure, because they still have to keep up." But at Franklin, a Title 1 school that could face the possibility of school choice if standards aren't met, "there are times when we sweat, not just perspire," she said.

Central Junior High principal Roy Merideth said that even though his school is not subject to federal sanctions, there is still accountability and "the pressure is very real and very palpable." He said he and his staff are constantly looking at school improvement plans and are evaluating what is working and what isn't.

Pressure can come from a variety of sources: district administration, parents, school boards or teachers themselves.

The state has little authority to penalize or reward schools based on performance, according to Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education.

"At the state level, our accountability system is really through the accreditation standards, what we call MSIP," or Missouri School Improvement Plan, Morris said. "Our state accreditation system focuses on districts. ... That contrasts with the NCLB structure, which is primarily building-focused."

That threat of losing accreditation, however, is not imminent or real for many districts, McClure said. She referred to St. Louis Public Schools, which recently lost its accreditation and was taken over by the state. "Look how long it took the state of Missouri to finally move on that district. There were years and years of excuses," she said.

In order for the state to enforce penalties against a failing school, Morris said, legislation would need to be passed. State Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Gir?ardeau, is an opponent of No Child Left Behind and said he would not support such a measure.

Crowell said teachers are holding themselves accountable, and parents and voters are holding school boards and administrators accountable.

"Is the state going to simulate exactly what the federal government does? I hope not. ... I believe in our school boards, I believe in local control. No Child Left Behind has been destructive. It doesn't work," he said.

Cape Girardeau School District received $1.19 million this year in Title 1 money. Money is allocated based on economic deprivation, or the percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches. Schools with more than 40 percent of students in this category qualify to receive money.

Jefferson Elementary has the highest percentage of economically depraved students and will receive $275,576 this year.

"A majority of the budget goes to staff," said assistant superintendent Pat Fanger. Specialists are frequently hired, along with additional teachers to reduce class size.

Central Junior High would qualify for money -- with 49.7 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2006 -- but funds have been directed elsewhere. Only 38 percent of students at the high school and only 18 percent at Alma Schrader Elementary are eligible.

Fanger said that if the junior high were to receive money, allocations to other schools would be reduced. "We have chosen to focus on early intervention and assistance," she said, meaning students in kindergarten through sixth grade are targeted.

Morris said he has heard of districts in recent years reallocating funds so fewer schools would be subject to federal penalties. The challenge is balancing the potential good with the possible consequences, Fanger said.

In Jackson, all the elementary schools are Title 1 and have made adequate yearly progress every year in both subjects. Jackson Middle School and Russell Hawkins Junior High are not Title 1 schools, but they have not failed to make adequate yearly progress two years in a row in one subject, which is the trigger for sanctions. Jackson High School would have faced sanctions in 2004 had it been a Title 1 school, but its students made adequate yearly progress the following year.


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