No Child Left Behind could be overhauled

08/27/07 Seán Kinane
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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB), was supposed to improve the performance of the country’s students, teachers and schools. But many educators have found fault with aspects of that law.

Today at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, U.S. Representatives George Miller and Kathy Castor spoke with area teachers about the reauthorization of what they call an improved version of NCLB.

Rep. Miller of California is the chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor. After speaking with a room full of Hillsborough classroom teachers, Miller said there is a groundswell of opposition to the current NCLB act in schools and communities across the country.

“The law is not fair, it’s not flexible, and it’s not funded. In this reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, we plan to address all of those concerns. It’s made very clear that people want the change in this law. They want their school districts measured by more than one test on one day, they want their students measured by more than one test on one day, and they want their teachers measured by more than that. And we intend to do that.”

Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, listed several problems her group has with the current version of NCLB.

“It’s one size fits all, that everything is dictated by a single test given each year. Every state determines their own test, but must have a test. And one day in the life of a child on a test does not tell you what kind of progress they’ve made.

"The law focuses more on punishments and failures than it does on successes and finding ways to identify where the weaknesses are and which students need the most help and providing additional supports it’s just not a part of the focus. Instead, let’s find where we have problems and punish them,” Clements said.

She said NCLB has taken money from public schools that need it the most and sent it to private entities.

“The law has resulted in our neediest schools losing funding and it’s diverted funding to very questionable places. It’s diverted funding for tutoring that then there’s no accountability for who does the tutoring.”

Miller said discussion draft of a revised NCLB will be posted tonight on the Education and Labor Committee’s website and that the changes will make the bill more accountable.

“We think they’re fundamental with respect to fairness, we think they’re fundamental with respect to the flexibility and giving the local districts more say over how they run that system. And we think that we’ve shown as the Democrats took over the Congress, increased funding for No Child Left Behind for those schools that need additional help, for those teachers professional development, and for better assessments for our students that are fairer for our students. So this is sort of the first day for reconsideration of No Child Left Behind.”

Florida relies very heavily on one test, the FCAT, to assess schools, teachers and students. Miller said that no longer would have to be the case under a revised version of NCLB.

“We’re offering this option to the states. Whether the states decide to take it up or not remains with the states. What we’re saying, if the Florida Legislature and the Florida people are comfortable with that, I guess they can keep that system. Most states are telling us that they have confidence in their state exams, but they would like to have these multiple indicators: how is that school doing, what’s the graduation rate of this high school, and should they get credit if they’re improving that graduation rate every year. We think they should. If this state wants to stay wedded to that one system, they can no longer say, ‘Well, No Child Left Behind made us do it’ because that’s not what we’re doing at this stage.”

Rep. Castor said the Commissioner of Education sent a letter to Florida’s congressional delegation asking for greater flexibility in measuring how a child progresses during a year, rather than just relying on a one-time FCAT test.

“I think the wtate of Florida is going to be seeking to improve the FCAT and that entire accountability system because it is not working right now for parents. It is irrational and I’m afraid they took the easy way out by using one test and then trying to say that is the grade for the school, the teacher, and the student.

"We’re going to make it a lot more rational, and stand up for our kids and take a whack at this achievement gap. … And we’re simply not going to punish kids that come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; we’re going to help them. And that’s what I think this reform will bring.”

The current NCLB contains a controversial provision mandating that schools turn over the personal information on all students to military recruiters or else that school will forfeit its federal funding. WMNF asked Miller whether the new NCLB bill would still include this provision. He said that it has not yet been removed, but he expected an amendment either in committee or on the floor of the House of Representatives that would remove the requirement. Miller said he would support such an amendment.

“I think that if you’re going to recruit my son or daughter, I want to affirmatively give you permission to do that for that young person who is still in high school, and I think that’s what parents want. Right now they get to do it [schools giving military recruiters the personal information of students] unless you tell them to stop. And in many instances the parents are not informed because the student or the child is not telling the parent that. This is obviously a very critical decision by the young people in that family.”

Castor stressed how money could be better spent than on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

“People want to bring the troops home, and bring them home safely, and bring an end to this war. We’re spending over $10 billion a month in the war in Iraq right now. Think about what we could do for childrens' education, and for our teachers, and the struggling students here, and for students’ healthcare, if we had that money to invest in this community.”

For more information:

You can read the discussion draft of the No Child Left Behind revision after it is posted at Education and Labor Committee.

NCLB in The Nation

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