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NCLB and Students Who Struggle With Learning

No Child Left Behind - Disabilities Act

An Online Chat With Candace Cortiella

On August 18, 2004, SchwabLearning.org hosted an online chat with Candace Cortiella, a national expert in special education law and an advocate for children with learning disabilities, as well a member of the professional advisory board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Chat participants asked Ms. Cortiella how the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act might affect public school students who struggle with learning. Schwab Learning's Online Community Manager, Scott Moore, moderated the chat.

What do you think are the two or three most beneficial provisions of NCLB for kids with learning problems?
First, the most important provision is that all students must be included [in the accountability system required by NCLB]. Next, a key provision is the requirement to disaggregate, or break apart, the performance data for certain subgroups of students, including students with disabilities. This requirement will reveal if schools are actually improving the academic performance of our most vulnerable groups of students. These NCLB provisions and others are covered in the parent guide [to using NCLB to improve your child’s learning].

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has been in place for 30 years and is blatantly disregarded by many districts and states. Why do you believe things are going to turn in the parents’ favor with NLCB?
Unfortunately, Suzanne, the federal government has done little to ensure implementation of IDEA. With NCLB, schools get sanctioned if they don't perform. That’s what will make the difference.

If a parent sees things at their child’s school that seem to violate the NCLB law, what should they do to get the school to comply? Who do they report problems to?
I would suggest that parents start by discussing the issues with the school leadership. NCLB is a complex law, and what appears to be non-compliance may, in fact, not be. If, on the other hand, you are confident that the school is out of compliance, you could go to the district level, or directly to the state. Each state department of education has an NCLB coordinator to whom you could address your concerns. See your state's NCLB plan for more information (See the U.S. Department of Education website listed under Resources). Parent involvement is a big focus of NCLB, so parents should feel free to get involved!

Don’t you believe that state education departments and school districts would be more accountable if they had to report to a truly independent authority?
Possibly. The ultimate authority in public education should be the public, as the consumers. Unfortunately, states are looking for ways to get some additional flexibility [in implementing the law], so parents should gain an understanding of the major provisions of the law and how it works in their state, and work to ensure improvement. [District] Report Cards, required by NCLB, offer lots of information that parents can use.

Can you recommend some resources for parents that provide information about the performance of their schools?
Yes! Here are two:

There’s a wealth of information available. Check your state department of education’s website, as well. District Report Cards should be posted there.

Are there specific advocates or advocacy agencies that can help parents deal with their schools?
There are advocates across the country who specialize in assisting parents in their dealings with schools regarding their student's services under IDEA. One site that lists advocates is Education-a-must, although I can’t vouch for the qualifications of those listed. Also, your state’s Parent Training and Information Center should be able to help locate advocates in your state. Also visit the Parent Training and Information Center Directory.

Doesn’t NLCB apply more to inner city schools than to middle class suburban schools? For example, tutoring under NCLB is only available to low-income students.
Since some provisions, such as school choice and supplemental educational services (such as tutoring), apply only to Title I schools [and many Title I schools are located in our inner cities], we can presume that more inner city schools will be subjected to those sanctions. But all schools must test all students, report the results—both for the total school and for required subgroups (disaggregation)—and adhere to the “highly qualified” teacher requirements of NCLB. Many suburban schools have masked poor performance of traditionally low-performing students—such as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, students with disabilities, minority students—with the good performance of the majority of the school’s population. NCLB uncovers that practice.

How can we find out which states are most compliant?
By compliant, do you mean the number of schools doing well? Again, you can’t compare states because of the flexibility they’re allowed in setting content standards. There is no report on states’ “compliance” with NCLB at this point.