The Dearborn Public Schools district expects more flexibility–but little change in how they address student achievement–now that Michigan is among several states granted a No Child Left Behind waiver by the U.S. Department of Education.
It was one of the most controversial proposals by former President George W. Bush, but 11 years after the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” was enacted by Congress, the guidelines are gone in Michigan. Essentially, this means that the state no longer has to follow the guidelines set by the government that requires all students to be passing statewide standardized tests by 2014.
Districts can also be more flexible in how they spend federal dollars and find ways to measure academic growth that doesn't rely solely on tests. Districts also no longer will face penalties for not meeting goals, such as annual yearly progress.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan in a statement called the approval great news for students and schools.
“We went to bat for local school districts because we know they are working hard to improve student achievement, but needed this flexibility from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ structure of No Child Left Behind," he said. "We’ve gotten them the flexibility and assistance, but in return, are raising expectations and transparency. The end result will be higher achievement levels for all students and a greater future for Michigan."
Dearborn Schools: Steady As She Goes
At the Dearborn Public School District, the waiver will not likely bring sweeping changes to the district’s school improvement plans, or the individual programs the schools have in place at the 18,500-student district.
“We have a strong program in place, particularly for students who are falling behind,” said district spokesman David Mustonen. “I don’t think we’re going to see big changes as a result of the waiver.”
Since its inception, the No Child law has stirred passions within the halls of education and government because it extended the federal role in public education, which has traditionally been the domain of state and local governments.
Critics have argued the 2014 deadline for 100 percent proficiency was based on "arbitrary targets" and a "one-size-fits-all" strategy that did not take into account the fiscal and social issues school must deal with every day. Addiitionally, Adequate Yearly Progress goals, if not met over a specified time period, could have triggered a takeover of underperforming district, which critics said was unfairly punitive for urban schools.
DPS Supt. Brian Whiston agreed, calling the end of AYP a step in the right direction–but not the final solution.
Earlier this month, the MDE as reward schools, priority schools and focus schools–translating to top-performing or most-improved; lowest-performing; and schools showing a large gap between the highest and lowest performance, respectively.
Dearborn had five Reward Schools and six Focus Schools on the list.
One aspect of the achievement debate that concerns Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston is the instability of the assessment environment in Michigan.
“The waiver was a good start,” he said. “My concern is that we are achieving higher than many other districts, but they are not on any focus lists, and that does not make sense.”
Jill Chockol, the assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, said the district’s current plan is working.
“We have implemented a plan for that is getting results,” she said. “And we to take into account some things in Dearborn other schools may not–for instance, we have a large contingent of students that are learning English as a second language. We’ve identified where students need help, and we’re working with them.”
Schools officials have several programs that are helping students improve their level of academic achievement, Chockol added.
“Our strategy revolves around small groups,” she said. “Students that work in small groups get more individual attention, whether they are high achievers, or the need additional help,” she said.
The ongoing activities at the school include implementing new programs to provide measurable results regarding student achievement in literacy, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, and providing additional teacher reinforcements.
Math instructors attended additional training during the 2011-12 school year to learn how to implement new technologies and techniques into established teaching methods. Literacy teachers attended training to help develop students’ problem solving skills and deepen their comprehension.
In grades K-6, the implementation of has also brought resources to students, including one-on-one coaching and small group instruction, Chockol said. Initial measurements collected by the schools indicate that 86 percent of educators believe the CAFÉ program is improving student reading stamina. Another 47 percent of educators said they have noticed an improvement in reading comprehension.
For several years, the district has administered a multi-level ESL program to help foriegn language speakers speak, read, and write English.
Though the district has implemented programs that have increased student achievement, Whiston believes the measurement system that judges those efforts would be more useful if constant changes abated.
“I do not like the constant changing of what they are going to hold us accountable for,” he said. “Set a target and leave us alone to meet it.”