In a speech honoring San Diego Unified School District’s Teachers of the Year last month, teachers union President Camille Zombro received loud cheers and applause from the audience (mostly teachers) when she called on the school board to oppose the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The federal law, which sets student-achievement standards that increase steadily through 2014, must be renewed by Congress in the coming months, and various interest groups have staked out their own positions on the issue.

A few months ago, school board member Shelia Jackson was working on a resolution that would express the board’s disapproval with the law as it now written, but other board members have suggested that one would not come before the full board because the five-person body remains divided on the issue. Unlike Jackson, for example, board member Mitz Lee has expressed support for the law, and board President Luis Acle has said he does not believe the board should get involved in political issues.

However, one person who has been unequivocal in his criticism of the law is Superintendent Carl Cohn, who recently penned an opinion piece in an influential education publication expressing his opinion.

Some of those criticisms seem to be echoed in a draft “legislative policy statement” the district staff has prepared for the board to discuss next week. Once approved, the document will serve as the basis for the district’s lobbying activities.

Here are some of the points included in the document:

  • “Minimize state and federal mandates that negatively impact the SDUSD’s ability to provide students with a school program tailored to their needs”

Critics of the law have argued that it places too much focus on math and English, short-changing other subjects and student electives.

  • “Increase the alignment between state and federal accountability models and ensure that student growth is reflected in the calculation of school and district performance”

Unlike the state’s accountability framework, the federal law sets absolute benchmarks: 100 percent of the students must be proficient in their core subjects by 2014, and schools must meet specific targets every year before then. Under the federal model, a campus where 20 percent of the students are now proficient must bring the other 80 up to par by 2014; for a school where 99 percent are already proficient, the remaining 1 percent must improve.

Many districts in California, and the state’s superintendent of education, have argued that the proper accountability model should instead be based on relative progress from year to year, like California’s own Academic Performance Index.

  • “Increase school districts’ flexibility to use existing restricted funding”

Under No Child Left Behind, failing schools must spend a portion of their federal funds on very specific programs.

Overall, the document should make for an interesting discussion at next Tuesday’s hearing. It may provide the most definitive indication of where the school board stands on the reauthorization of the federal law.


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