Obama administration open to allowing states exemptions from Bush-era law

Oregon will apply for a state exemption from the No Child Left Behind accountability law, Gov. John Kitzhaber told a crowd of educators, business people and elected leaders Friday morning.

'I'll fight for a waiver from NCLB,' he told the crowd of about 150, who responded with loud applause. 'I wrote (U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan a couple weeks ago. I'll follow up in October in Washington, D.C.'

Kitzhaber was speaking to special meeting of the Cradle to Career Council - the body of countywide leaders who are working on efforts to improve outcomes for youth, from birth to post-secondary school or college and then work.

Kitzhaber spokeswoman Sarah Carlin Ames clarified that Kitzhaber spoke by phone with Duncan, and a conference call will be scheduled for the fall between Kitzhaber's staff and the Department of Education.

Since Congress failed to rewrite the 2002 accountability law proposed by President George W. Bush, Duncan announced last month that he would allow states to seek an exemption from the primary part of the NCLB law, which requires that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. States must have their own testing and accountability measures in place.

Critics of NCLB, including local educators, say it's a one-size-fits-all mandate that has many unintended consequences, like sending schools labeled as 'failing' into a downward spiral.

'Today's standardized tests, I think, are overemphasized and very, very simplistic,' Kitzhaber said.

The Department of Education is expected to announce the waiver guidelines soon, and many states are expected to apply. NCLB is already shaping up to be a major topic in the presidential election.

Kitzhaber's focus of his speech on Friday was to share his new emphasis on early childhood, since studies show that readiness for kindergarten and reading in first and third grade are major indicators of school success as well as graduation from high school.

'The state gives $3.8 billion a year to schools, but we're underfunded at every level,' he said. 'We have to do better with what we have now. As more resources become available, it's imperative we be prepared to reinvest in a system designed for the 21st century.'

Kitzhaber touched on many of the points he made in his Sept. 2 State of the Schools speech, during which he announced his nominees to two new boards: the Early Learning Council and the Oregon Education Investment Board, which would guide the state's education work from birth through college.

After the Senate confirms his 12 nominees, the investment board is set to begin meeting Sept. 30. Part of its work will be to launch a national search for a chief of education officer, to replace the elected state superintendent of schools position.

The new nine-member Early Learning Council will focus on streamlining programs for at-risk youth, to ensure that all kids are ready for kindergarten.

Multnomah County's wide array of current early childhood programs operate like a puzzle, with missing and disjointed pieces, Portland Schools Foundation Executive Director Dan Ryan said.

The foundation's Cradle to Career work aims to use data to boost success and fill in the gaps between those programs. The Cradle to Career council's three priorities are early learning, eliminating the achievement gap and providing extended learning.

Kitzhaber called the initiative 'pioneering work,' and wants to see a transition into the new system in place within three years, before his term ends.

'I want to invest in what works, tailored to each community,' he said. 'We want to go from islands of excellence to cultures of excellence across the state.'


Other news from the Cradle to Career Council meeting: Judy Peppler, a longtime figure in Oregon education, business and politics, is leaving for greener pastures. The Qwest Oregon president will leave for a superintendent's post in North Carolina, after completing a training program with the The Broad Foundation.

She'll resign her duties on the many boards she serves on here, including co-chairwoman of the Cradle to Career Council.

Trail Blazers Chief Executive Officer Sarah Mensa will take her place as co-chairwoman of the council, joining Northwest Natural President Greg Kantor.


It was almost a quorum, but not quite. Portland School Board members Bobbie Regan, Martin Gonzalez, Trudy Sargent and Pam Knowles were in attendance at the Cradle to Career Council meeting, which would constitute a quorum - requiring public notice in accordance with open meeting laws - if they were discussing school district business.

Since they were merely listening to statewide school talks, however, there's no cause for concern.

Mayoral candidates Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales were also in attendance, no doubt getting up to speed for the education debates to come.

State Rep. Jefferson Smith, meanwhile, is keeping everyone in suspense about his decision, his latest message to friends and supporters promising that he'll weigh in on the mayor's race 'within the next several days.'

'I'm not in any hurry, but people keep asking,' he says.

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