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Dyer plays role in federal goal to update No Child Left Behind
Gainesville school chief, administrators go to DC seeking to add flexibility to education law
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The No Child Left Behind Act's rising expectations are leaving many Georgia schools behind, as a growing number are penalized for missing federal academic targets.

But lawmakers soon may put an end to this and other parts of the federal law, Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

"They will try to introduce something by July," she said.

Dyer recently returned from Washington, where she and other education leaders from around the country met with those
charged with rewriting the bill.

Her group, the American Association of School Administrators, made the trip to learn about updates to the bill from legislative staffers and advocate for change.

Last January, President Barack Obama announced plans to overhaul the 2002 law, which established a national framework for school accountability and mandated an expansion of standardized testing.

Dyer said there is a wide consensus for fixes — from educators, policy makers and reformers — but a question of how to write the law remains.

"For a bill that becomes law, it must be broad. It's specific in goals and broad in application, otherwise it would be overreaching," she said.

Dyer said one part of the bill that many critics say is overreaching is the standard of Adequate Yearly Progress. Some educators are disheartened because it has led to thousands of schools being labelled as falling below standards, she said.

The regulation requires that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that miss federal benchmarks in consecutive years are designated as "needs improvement," and put in a category of strict oversight. If those goals aren't met, more drastic measures could be taken, such as staff overhauls.

So far, only Gainesville Middle School has faced consequences under the act, Dyer said. It was required that parents be given a choice to move their children to a school that meets testing targets.

"The parents have not taken that choice," Dyer said.

Dyer adds that federal targets rise each year, and should it continue, it is predicted that 50 percent of schools in the U.S. will not meet progress goals by 2011.

"It will be 60 or 70 percent by 2012 and by 2013 or 2014, you're talking about the majority," Dyer said.

In Washington, education leaders argued this might lead to problems in economic development.

"To attract business and be competitive globally the question is, how can we let flawed policy give a perception to the rest of the world that half of our schools are failing?" she said.

James Bergeron, deputy director of education and human services policy, told the group there may be good news. There is talk of suspending Adequate Yearly Progress goals. He also said that instead of focusing on improvement at every school, the focus would be on the bottom 5 percent of schools in each state, Dyer said.

"In Gainesville and Hall County, we wouldn't have any that would meet that criteria right now," Dyer said.

The reauthorization could also make federal funding from No Child Left Behind more flexible.

Right now, Gainesville receives funds for tutoring and at-risk students, but it can only be spent at certain times or in certain ways, Dyer said.

"A lot of funding must be spent after the school day. If it could be used during the school day; we wouldn't need to wait until after school to have tutors," she said.

While the law has had its critics, Dyer said some of the effects, like accountability and clear goals, have been a good step for education.

"The broad goals have been effective. It was the first time in any country that proficiency had been demanded from children of every group of society," she said.

However, one revelation Dyer said she had in D.C. is that the new bill doesn't need to be rushed.

The bill was initially expected to be reauthorized in 2007, Dyer said.

"It has taken this long to renew the policy, and there is a chance that this will be policy for 10 or 12 years after it's authorized," Dyer said. "We as a nation need to be purposeful and deliberate."

Dyer said the bill likely will not be passed this year, but it may be introduced by July 4. She said the bill also might be stalled for political reasons.

"Andy Rotherham from Eduwonk.com said yesterday, which makes a lot of sense to me, that everyone realizes the AYP thing is a bad deal, but it's not so bad that anyone wants to do anything about it," Dyer said.

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