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State lawmakers call for changes in Bush education plan

Task force says innovation no longer allowed

Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau

George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal law has forced the nation's children to meet rigid academic performance standards that create "too many ways to fail," a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers who reviewed the No Child Left Behind Act said Wednesday.

A report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures includes language such as the word "challenges" to describe problems the law created for local school systems, and calls for "cooperation" between state and federal officials to resolve fundamental questions about the law.

"What our task force found is that innovation stopped when No Child Left Behind Act came along, because it was no longer allowed," said panel co-chairman Steve Saland, a Republican state lawmaker from New York, speaking at a news conference.

President Bush signed his education plan into law January 8, 2002.

In the time since, states have raised constitutional questions, expressed concern about paying for the law's implementation, and suffered confusion created by parts of the Bush law that contradict provisions in another federal education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Panel Member Kory Holdaway, a high school special education teacher and a Republican state lawmaker from Utah, told reporters the Bush law "requires that 90 percent of students with disabilities be proficient in their grade level by school year 2013-2014. No Child Left Behind creates benchmarks for students with disabilities that are academically impractical and economically unrealistic."

A co-chairman of the No Child Left Behind Task Force, Steve Kelley, a Democratic state lawmaker from Minnesota, said states agree with the goal of improved education, but the federal government is "attempting to do it by meddling in state processes."

"With this report we ask the administration and Congress to show true flexibility by approving state accountability plans that meet the spirit of the law, not just the letter," he said.

The 75-page report is the result of 10 months' work and meetings across the country with parents, school superintendents, and other state education and legislative officials.

Some of the recommendations now being circulated to the U.S. Education Department and congressional staff include:

  • Provide more leeway for states to focus on schools and students most in need.
  • Measure more than standardized test scores.
  • Allow states to set proficiency goals.
  • Let states determine consequences to be applied against low-performing schools.
  • Consider ability, not grade-based standards, for special-needs students

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