Florida joins No Child Left Behind program

07/02/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Florida has been included in a pilot program that allows schools in compliance with most areas of the No Child Left Behind Act to face less stringent penalties for struggling schools, and design its own methods for improving schools.

Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings made the announcement at a news conference in Texas yesterday.

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, applauded the announcement.

Overall, 17 states were vying for a spot in the pilot program, but only six were accepted.

Florida and five other states were chosen because they have either 20 percent of their Title I schools in “need of improvement,” have schools who have proposed interventions in the five-year restructuring phase and/or have proposed innovative school reform.

In Florida, 69 percent of the 1,363 Title I schools are considered in “need of improvement" under No Child Left Behind. Yet not nearly as many schools are considered failing under the state’s system of grading.

Jeff Atkins is director of Federal Programs for Hillsborough County public schools, where there are 42 schools that are scheduled to go into the restructuring phase, which contains serious consequences.

The new guidelines put failing schools into two categories – those that earn an A, B, or C under Florida’s grading system and those that are below average. They also consider whether the schools’ scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test are improving.

Currently under No Child Left Behind, there are five things that can happen when a school goes into restructuring: they can be closed and re-opened as a charter school; the state can take over the school, although that cannot happen in Florida; the principal can be replaced; a private company can take over the school; or there can be some type of alternative governance.

Jeff Aktins with the Hillsborough County School District says the 42 schools in the district that face restructuring could still face serious sanctions, but he believes that now the remedies will not be nearly as harsh as they were before the pilot project was announced.

In the next couple of weeks, new grades for all of Florida’s schools are expected to be announced. At that time, new remedial programs to bring those schools into compliance are expected to be unveiled.

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