North Dakota: A Victory Apparent

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NCLB watchers fixed their eyes on North Dakota this week watching state education officials and feds from the Department of Education squaring off over how the state had defined a highly qualified teacher. Sorry to say, the feds blinked first.

What had North Dakota done wrong? North Dakota blatantly ignored the law's requirements as it pertains to elementary teachers. Granted, many states are ignoring various NCLB teacher provisions (particularly those applying to veteran teachers). North Dakota officials had sat on their hands rather than changing a thing about the way new elementary teachers were trained to meet the law's requirement that subject matter knowledge be verified. Additionally, state officials were ignoring the law's requirement that middle school teachers must major in their subject they wish to teach.

Back in December the feds reprimanded North Dakota for thumbing its nose at the law. Unions, state officials, and teachers immediately cried foul, insisting that North Dakota's achievement test scores proved that teachers were in fact highly qualified and that the feds had had several years to tell them they were doing it all wrong and hadn't.

Essentially, North Dakota won more time, but they're still being made to comply with the law. What was the 2002-2003 deadline for making sure new elementary teachers are trained in accordance with NCLB is now the 2005-2006 deadline. State Superintendent Wayne Sanstead comments, "I had my doubts there wasn't going to be any turnaround here. It was clearly timing."

Could the feds have done more? In many respects their hands were tied, faced with their own slow start in monitoring states and the widespread noncompliance. Their solution was not a total cave though it's being played as one?an important perception that the Department should have taken great pains to avoid. A symbolic wrist-slapping would have sent a powerful signal to other states. North Dakota gets well over $100 million in Title 1 funds each year, roughly 1 out of 8 education dollars it spends. A couple of mill off the top for flagrantly dissing the new Federal law would hardly have been out of order and would have sent a warning signal to other states equally guilty of lax behavior.