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Maine Gets Three-Year Reprieve From No Child Left Behind Requirements

AUGUSTA, Maine -  The state of Maine has won a three-year waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, which governs federal education policy for elementary and secondary education. The reprieve is drawing praise from state officials and educators.The No Child Left Behind Act expired in 2007, but still governs federal education policy. Acting Maine Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin says that policy was not designed with the kind of flexibility that states need.

Desjardin says many of the provisions were aimed at improving school performance in inner city areas, which Maine does not have.

“We do, however, have fairly rural, sometimes poor, districts that are long way from, really, any population, and that’s different from, say, Chicago," he says. "So for us it was just being able to do things a little differently because Maine is different from every other state, every other state is different from every other.”

Desjardins says the goal of the original No Child Left Behind legislation was a good one - to make sure kids learn what they needed to know before entering the work force or college. But he says the law created unrealistic benchmarks.

“The original law requires 100 percent of our schools are proficient, are achieving," he says, "and, you know, seldom does anyone get 100 percent of anything. You know 99.5 is pretty good, but it is not good enough, according to the law.”

Lois Kilby-Chesley, the president of the Maine Education Association, welcomes the three-year waiver. She says educators are interested in developing a fair system to assess the performance of teachers and administrators . She says its clear that standardized tests alone don’t work.

“To find a fair way to do it, I think having an extra year will be beneficial to everyone," she says. "Certainly, I, the teachers and the principals will be continuing to work for changes and to make sure it is in place for the end of this waiver.”

Both Desjardins and Kilby-Chesley hope Congress will complete work on the new Every Child Achieves Act,  which will replace the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. The Senate just passed its version before the August vacation, and now the House and Senate conference committee will work on a compromise bill.

Both Maine senators supported the Senate measure. Sen. Angus King released a statement praising the waiver but says it is no substitute for a new law that gives flexibility to the states on a permanent basis.

Whether Congress will pass a new law governing elementary and secondary education policy is far from certain.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of the reporters at MPBN News.