Proficiency for All?

As superintendent in a small, rural Wisconsin district, I initially did not like the No Child Left Behind Act. I called it a federal attempt to privatize public education with subgroup goals that were statistically impossible to attain. I thought it was a payback to education companies that supported the party in power. I thought it carried an awfully large stick with an awfully small carrot.

With time, however, I examined NCLB’s basic tenet of proficiency for all, and, with the exception of the allowable exemption for a small percentage of special needs students, asked, “What’s so bad about that?”

I encouraged the Shiocton school board to set achievement goals equal to the upper 10 percent of all districts in the state. Over time, we had moved from being in the upper 60 percent to the upper 30 percent of districts. Good, but to get into the top 10 percent, we had to have 100 percent proficiency in some areas. So we developed a back door accommodation to NCLB because, ultimately, we wanted the same thing -- reading and math proficiency for all students.

Shiocton, dubbed the sauerkraut capital of the world, has some advantages. A bedroom community for commuters from Green Bay and the Fox Cities, Shiocton has about a quarter of its 830 students receiving free and reduced-price lunch. We receive more state aid than other districts in the area because much of our land is state- and county-owned for public hunting, but federal aid accounts for only 1 percent of our total budget.

That said, there are many things you can learn from the process we undertook for our district. Here are my top 10 lessons for helping you reach the goal of proficiency for all.

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