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Sen. Cornyn calls for changes to No Child Left Behind Act in letter to Varnett

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn acknowledged Varnett for being one of only 28 percent of school districts in Texas to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards, he called for returning education decision-making to the states – “where it belongs.”

The Texas Republican senator said in a letter to Varnett, a Houston charter school, that education is a function that is best left to parents, teachers and local school boards. “As Congress considers reauthorization of NCLB, we should pursue ideas that reinforce local control of innovation but ensure accountability in the results,” he wrote.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act set federal standards for public education and encouraged more K-12 students to reach proficiency. It also required annual increases in the number of students who pass standardized tests in reading and math tests, until all students are passing by 2014.

Varnett and campuses met standards
The Varnett Public School -- and each of its three campuses -- met the tough federal academic standards this year, placing the school system among only 28 percent of Texas districts to do so. In addition, Varnett's campuses were among 44 percent of those in Texas meeting the 2012 federal benchmark, according to the preliminary data posted by the Texas Education Agency.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a school met Adequate Yearly Progress requirements this year if 87 percent or more students passed the state reading/English language arts test; 83 percent passed the state mathematics test, 95 percent participated in the state testing program and, depending on the grade level, had either a 75 percent graduation rate or a 90 percent attendance rate.

Before and after the testing results were released, No Child Left Behind came under heavy criticism from educators in Texas and throughout the country. Last month, newly appointed Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced that he intends to join more than 30 states to ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from several provisions under the act.

According to media reports, Williams wrote a letter to school districts. “The state recognizes that the lack of NCLB’s reauthorization in a timely manner has created an obsolete system that does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state’s schools. This, combined with [schools] being required to meet and function within two different assessment and accountability systems, takes valuable resources and time away from the intent and focus of improving student achievement and school accountability."

Greater state control
In his letter to Varnett, Cornyn said he has introduced legislation to allow states “to voluntarily establish performance agreements with the U.S. Department of Education, permitting state and local authorities to identify their education needs and priorities.” The resources, he said, would be directed to state-driven initiatives and accountability for improvement would remain in force.

The Texas Education Agency, according to a report from the Associated Press, said adequate yearly progress standards would still apply in Texas but that the state wants more options to help struggling districts improve, including easing federal requirements on sanctions for those districts that fail to meet them.

Despite the dissatisfaction among many districts over NCLB, Varnett did meet the federal standards, unlike major districts that didn’t, including Houston, Fort Bend, Katy, Alief, Clear Creek, Conroe, Aldine and Cy-Fair.

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