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Luna to join Obama in D.C. for education address

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State public schools chief Tom Luna is expected to join President Barack Obama Friday in Washington as the White House gives states guidance about how they can get around provisions in the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind law.

Idaho was among a handful of states that have vowed to ignore the latest requirements under the federal law from the Bush administration era, a move that demonstrates their growing frustration over an education program they say sets unrealistic benchmarks for schools.

Luna’s office said Thursday he was among a dozen or more state school officers invited to join Obama on Friday for the president’s announcement.

In advance of Obama’s speech, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states would be able to seek waivers around requirements in the law if they can meet certain requirements that the White House favors. Duncan has said the emphasis will be more on growth than actual test scores.

But few specifics have been revealed on how the plan would work.

“We are excited Superintendent Luna will be in Washington to speak with the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education on this waiver process and how Idaho can apply for it,” said Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. “Idaho has been extremely vocal on what the waiver process should look like, so I’m not surprised they invited Supt. Luna.”

The No Child Left Behind law sets a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states were allowed to establish how much schools must improve each year and many saved the biggest leaps for the final years, anticipating the law would be changed.

But it hasn’t, and states like Idaho, Montana and South Dakota said earlier this year that they were fed up and made plans to reject the latest requirements for determining school progress under the law — even if the move toward noncompliance might put them at risk of losing some federal funding.

In Idaho, the state Board of Education approved the plan to reject the latest requirements for determining student progress under the federal law at a special meeting in July, though some trustees questioned Luna about his timing and motives behind the move

The board approved the plan amid concerns from trustee Don Soltman, who noted that Idaho was ditching the higher benchmarks three days before the state’s latest batch of testing results would be released. The scores showed Idaho school progress stagnated last year, with 62 percent of schools again meeting targets.

The No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2001 with widespread bipartisan support. It sought to hold schools more accountable for student performance and draw better-qualified teachers in classrooms. It has since been widely panned by critics who say it brands schools as failures even as they make progress, discourages high academic standards and encourages educators to teach to the test, as opposed to providing practical classroom learning to students.

The law has been due for a re-write since 2007, and Obama and Duncan had asked that it be overhauled by the beginning of this school year. But a growing ideological divide in Congress in recent years has only complicated efforts to do so.

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