OUR OPINION: Monday meetings open door to parents, educators, trustees

By NEMS Daily Journal

It’s just the thing most people don’t need in the busy month of December, but Monday’s public forum at 6 p.m. in Oxford on the possibility of our state seeking waivers from requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act is important enough to make an exception.
The 6 p.m. session at Oxford Conference Center will be preceded by a 3 to 4:30 p.m. session for school district trustees, administrators and teachers.
While the act has ramped up the requirements and expectations of public school systems nationwide, meeting the criteria measuring progress in a timely way (by 2014) has proven problematic for a majority of states.
It’s possible 40 states will seek some kind of waiver from the federal requirements, but a waiver is not the same as letting schools off the hook of undeniably necessary higher achievement.
In mid-November, it was reported that 11 states have formally filed applications for waivers and offered their own versions of how to achieve progress and proficiency.
The online newspaper, The Huffington Post, reported that Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee have submitted “curriculums and plans catered to their localities in exchange for flexibility from federal education mandates.”
That is, they don’t seek to opt out, but do it in a different way.
President Obama in September announced that the administration would offer a “flexibility package” to states if they demonstrate a “true commitment to reform, unleashing energy to improve our schools at the local level,” Huffington Post reported.
Additional states like Mississippi are expected to apply in later rounds, extending through next spring.
Applications must arrive with the proposed alternative route to achievement fully laid out.
“Drafted reform efforts must map out plans to implement college- and career-ready standards,” the Post reported.
No Child Left Behind, as is generally known, requires regular standardized testing and aims to achieve math and reading proficiency among all students by 2014. However, an increasing number of schools have been labeled “failing,” allegedly resulting from the reporting methods.
In general, if the waiver-seeking states’ drafted plans are approved, they will:
• Set performance goals to graduate students from high school who are prepared for college and careers. They will no longer be required to meet arbitrary NCLB deadlines in 2014.
• Design interventions that are catered to localities, versus the federal “one-size-fits-all” route often criticized by educators and parents.
• Be able to measure school progress using multiple measures, instead of just test scores.
• Have more flexibility in how Title I funding is spent. Title 1 funding is allocated for students who are at risk of failure based on a variety of factors.
None of the issues yield to simplistic solutions, and most educators agree that differing methods can be used to reach a common goal.
State Superintendent Tom Burnham, well known in Northeast Mississippi, will attend the Monday meetings. We hope many parents, teachers and others in the core school communities in the region will attend, listening and proposing.