Ybarra confident in federal No Child Left Behind rewrite

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra expressed confidence Tuesday that Congress could work to help schools by rewriting federal education laws.

Ybarra was briefed on efforts by the U.S. House and Senate to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act during a trip to Boston last week to meet with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

ESEA, a 50-year-old law, directs federal education funding and establishes accountability measures for states and their school systems. President Lyndon Johnson originally signed ESEA into law, but it was later reauthorized and signed into law by President George W. Bush as No Child Left Behind, which includes additional accountability pieces and the Adequate Yearly Progress mandates.

Congress is negotiating two proposals. The first, passed by the U.S. House on July 8, is the GOP-backed Student Success Act. The second, passed by the Senate on July 16, is the bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act.

During an exclusive interview with Idaho Education News in her Boise office Tuesday, Ybarra expressed optimism about elements of the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act.

“One of the pieces of this reauthorization that is really great for Idaho is the fact I talked during the campaign over and over again about changing the culture and changing the direction and having a positive culture and shifting the conversation back to local control through empowerment,” Ybarra said. “Society is really tired of the ‘shut up and sit down’ mentality and the one-size-fits-all approach and that the SBAC (assessment test) is the only deciding factor in success for students.”

The Senate-backed reauthorization would do away with AYP and create a “dashboard” to take into account multiple measures of student achievement.

“It goes to the philosophy that I talked about when I took office, that we need to have a motion picture of growth over time, and not just one snapshot in the daily lives of our children,” Ybarra said. “That is exactly the direction the Every Child Achieves Act takes us.”

On Monday, Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr offered support for elements of the Senate bill, but emphasized that it does not go far enough.

“It gets more control back to the states,” Cyr said. “There are multiple measures so you are not graduating a student or firing a teacher based on a single test score.”

Ybarra said she has met with U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, over reauthorization, while Cyr said she consulted with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. Cyr said she attempted to allay Crapo’s concerns that passing the plan would require additional data collection in Idaho.

Labrador and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, voted in favor of the House bill, while Crapo and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, voted against the Senate bill, which cleared the Senate by a comfortable 81-17 margin.

Ybarra and Cyr stressed there should be some urgency in reauthorizing ESEA — both chambers of Congress are in session this week in Washington, D.C., but are expected to recess through Labor Day beginning sometime in August.

“It’s already been far too long,” Cyr said. “It’s been a punishment law used to punish students and punish teachers. It’s a negative law that needs to be turned around.”

Meanwhile, Ybarra is focusing on finalizing a one-year waiver that would grant Idaho some flexibility from No Child Left Behind. She will present a final version of the waiver to the State Board of Education on Friday. If it is approved, she will immediately send it to the U.S. Department of Education.

The application includes the same hallmarks Ybarra mentioned when she briefed the Idaho Legislature’s House Education Committee on the subject in March.

The waiver would seek to:

  • Discontinue Idaho’s instructional management system, Schoolnet.
  • Suspend Idaho’s five-star accountability system for one more year while a committee develops new accountability measures and proposals.
  • Remove some of the sanctions for not complying with AYP.

“We do have to have an accountability model in place, but we are free to create what works best for us,” Ybarra said.

Depending on whether and how Congress acts on its No Child Left Behind reauthorization bills, Ybarra said a state waiver may not be necessary in the future.

“The point of the Every Child Achieves Act is to get away from even having to apply for a waiver,” she said.

Coming Wednesday and Thursday

Ybarra met with Idaho Education News Tuesday, discussing a range of topics from federal education policy to local control issues. Check back with Idaho Education News on Wednesday and Thursday for more stories and videos of Ybarra sharing her perspective on teacher evaluations, data integrity, her State Department of Education staff, the upcoming school year and her next budget proposal.

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