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Matheson says Bush education plan flawed

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Utah Rep. Jim Matheson voted for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education-reform package in January 2002 but now believes it's not good for the state.

Matheson, a Democrat, voted for the sweeping legislation along with most of Congress.

But after hearing from educators in his 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from Salt Lake and Daggett counties in the north to Washington and San Juan counties in the south, Matheson says that under the federal mandates, Utah's schools and teachers will flunk the standards.

"We're setting up a situation where we're going to call every one of our schools a failure," Matheson said Tuesday in Salt Lake City. "This is not the right message to be sent. I don't think that's what Congress wanted."

Bush billed No Child Left Behind as the solution to hold educators accountable for student learning and close the gap between struggling inner-city schools with large minority populations and wealthier, whiter suburban schools.

Since the program's start, its impact has been mixed. The state Office of Education is verifying test scores, attendance records and teacher training reports from each of the state's schools and is to release the results next month.

Matheson says the news is grim. Reasons for failure may be different, but the results are the same for schools from Midvale Elementary School in the Jordan School District — the state's largest — to Monument Valley High School on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County.

In Midvale, school officials have to eliminate 12 young teachers with unique language credentials to meet a new federal rule that requires high-poverty schools to have teachers with at least three years of experience.

Meanwhile, Monument Valley administrators have a hard time keeping experienced teachers on staff as other schools recruit them away.

Jordan District curriculum director Brenda Hales says No Child Left Behind doesn't work in Utah, with its urban-rural split and teachers' unique experiences.

Some teachers have served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had to learn languages other than English.

But No Child Left Behind requires foreign-language teachers to major in the language. Secondary school teachers are only considered highly qualified if they teach a course within the area of their college major.

Rural schools are especially hard-hit. Those with a high poverty rate are considered Title I schools, which are being held to standards immediately while other schools have until 2005 to report compliance.

West Desert High, 126 crow-miles across mountain and desert southeast of Salt Lake City, last year had two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher instructing 26 students in a range of subjects.

School administrators have to send letters to parents each year notifying them that their children's teachers are not highly qualified, according to the federal guidelines.