Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NCLB TURNS FIVE: It's time to send that child to school!


Ana Tintocalis | KPBS News (San Diego)

Jan 09, 2007 - President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is up for renewal. The federal program wants to raise student achievement across the country. Many San Diego teachers and principals say the law needs to be changed. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

Elizabeth Gillingham is the principal of De Portola Middle School. It’s located in the San Diego middle-class neighborhood of Tierra Santa.

Gillingham: We are a distinguished school by California standards and we became a model middle school for the state of California, one of 14, last year.

But in the eyes of the federal government, De Portla is failing despite the fact that student test scores improve every year. Under The No Child Left Behind Act, the school has failed to meet all the federal academic targets. Gillingham is frustrated.

Gillingham: The one measurement isn’t fair, its confusing to parents, and if they step foot on any campus, once they meet the teachers, they’re going to see people who care about kids.

President Bush proposed and a Republican Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act five years ago. The law requires every child to be proficient in reading and math. A school can be punished if some of the students don’t satisfy the academic benchmarks. It could lose federal money. It may have to adopt a new curriculum. Or parents could ask the district to bus their child to another school.

There wasn’t supposed to be conflict between federal and state standards. The federal law was clear about that. But states like California pressured the federal government to allow them to keep a separate system.

Arun Ramanathan is director of governmental relations at the San Diego Unified School District. He says having two ways to measure a school’s success inevitably caused confusion.

Ramanathan: You have a federal system that says all of these schools are failing, and you have parents how children are in these schools, and in many cases they working real hard or doing a job. And that doesn’t work out in their heads. How could my school be identified as failure by federal government but at the same time the state accountability system says it’s doing a good job?

State educators see the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind act this year as chance to fix the program. They want the system to mirror California’s model of accountability. They say the state’s system provides a more accurate picture of how students are doing.

Currently more than 70 schools in San Diego are labeled as failures under the federal program. Ramanathan expects more schools will labeled as failures if the problem isn’t solved.

Ramanathan: We’re going to have more and more elementary schools falling in other failed category, and more and more of our high schools, until we reach a point where literally every single one of our schools is a failure.

Some states like Colorado have weakened their state standards and tests so students can make the federal targets. Jeff Simmering calls this “gaming the system” to avoid penalties -- penalties such as losing federal funding. Simmering is the legislative director of the Council of the Great City Schools. His organization believes No Child Left Behind needs an overhaul.

Simmering: This act needs more than tweaking. As they say the devil is always in the details, but the details really need to be reworked.

President Bush calls No Child Left Behind a “significant education accomplishment.” He says it forces states to look at how they teach poor and minority students.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says the program is working. But she admits the program could be improved.

Alan Bersin used to be Superintendent of San Diego schools and was education secretary for Governor Schwarzenegger. Bersin still serves on the state education board. He believes No Child Left Behind can be salvaged.

Bersin: Reauthorization will bring change and much of that change I expect will be positive. The important matter is that we fix No Child Behind and not scrap it. It would be a huge step backward to simply go back to the days that everything goes where there isn’t an accountability system for holding adults responsible for the learning of children.

Look for a political battle to take place this year over the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Teachers unions will be pushing the Democratic controlled Congress for drastic changes. Conservatives will want to keep most of the program intact. Some observers say the issue won’t be settled until after the 2008 election. Middle School Principal Elizabeth Gillingham hopes for relief. She says educators can’t continue to work under dueling standards.

Gillingham: I don’t know one school principal that doesn’t pull they’re hair out trying to figure out how to do things better, I don’t know one teacher who doesn’t look at every student in that class and try to help them succeed.

Other administrators agree. They spend a lot of time explaining two systems of accountability and which one applies when.



CaliforniaChronicle.com | California Political Desk

January 9, 2007 - Washington, DC - On the fifth anniversary of the well-intentioned but badly under-funded No Child Left Behind initiative, Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo-San Francisco) yesterday said the White House had nothing to strut about at its events marking the occasion.

"People across the political spectrum who care deeply about public education came together five years ago expressing hope that this program could reverse what had gone wrong with our schools," Lantos noted. "The president had even rallied Senator Ted Kennedy to his corner on this one. But rather than a panacea for quality public education, the one-two punch of the Administration's empty slogans and inadequate funding has failed to knock out the achievement gap between the disadvantaged and children of privilege. As long as that remains the case, this fight is fixed."

The independent, UC-Berkeley-based PACE center (Policy Analysis for California Education) recently reported that California middle-school students from lower-income families continue to perform just as poorly on state exams when compared with better-off students as they did 3 years ago.

"Without adequate funding, these schools, and more importantly, these students will continue to face the Sisyphean task of being required to pass 'Adequate Yearly Progress' tests they are ill prepared to take," Lantos said.

This year's national education funding falls short of projected need by $16.4 billion. Since the No Child Left Behind legislation became law, the Administration and the previously Republican-led Congress have under-funded it by a staggering $56.8 billion dollars. In California, this extreme shortfall means that 16,850 teachers will be denied the training promised in the law.

"On the Peninsula and in San Francisco, we are all too familiar with the painful decisions that need to be made when education budgets fall short," Lantos, an educator and former member of the Millbrae School Board, noted. "I am delighted that for the first time since the law's inception, Democrats will have the chance to strengthen this program, and to make meaningful changes to ensure that the original funding commitments are met."

BUSH, LAWMAKERS MEET OVER NCLB: Administration lays groundwork for renewal of education law

From eSchool News staff and wire service reports

Jan 9 - President Bush met privately with lawmakers on Jan. 8 to discuss the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and acknowledged the need for changes to the federal education law, though he reportedly made no promises when the subject of more funding was addressed.

January 9, 2007—President Bush pushed for renewal of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law in a private meeting with congressional leaders on Jan. 8 but was noncommittal on their request for more money to help schools meet the law's requirements.

The controversial law has had an impact on many aspects of education, including education technology, and has increased pressure on school systems to spend money on computerized student information and assessment systems.

"In our discussions today, we've all agreed to work together to address some of the major concerns that some people have on this piece of legislation, without weakening the essence of the bill," Bush said following the White House meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

NCLB seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, which has placed many new demands on schools. The law calls on schools to step up testing, boost teacher quality, and pay more attention to the achievements of minority children.

Schools that get federal aid but do not make enough progress must provide tutoring, offer public school choice to students, or initiate other reforms, such as overhauling their staffs. First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings attended the Jan. 8 meeting, a day the Bush administration chose to mark NCLB's fifth anniversary.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. who chair committees overseeing education, said they urged the president to propose funding increases for NCLB. Bush made no commitments, according to a congressional aide who was briefed on the discussions and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

Democrats, who won control of Congress in November, say the administration and Republican lawmakers have underfunded the law by about $50 billion, compared with what originally was called for. Republicans say it is common practice for legislation to be funded at less than the full level.

Partisan sniping over the law has been common in recent years, but the lawmakers attending the Jan. 8 meeting struck a bipartisan note and pledged to work together to get the law renewed for five more years. The united front is part of a strategy to fend off critics who want to see the law scrapped or drastically changed.

"This issue now has its detractors and those who are opposed to it. That's true in the Democratic party and the Republican party," Kennedy said.

Spellings listed a few areas of concern that came up during the Jan. 8 meeting. They included how to test special education and limited-English speaking students, a desire to give schools credit for progress even when they fall short of annual targets, and ways to get more students access to free, high-quality tutoring.

Spellings also indicated she was willing to consider providing financial incentives to states that want to align their standards with more rigorous ones in place elsewhere. The administration, and Republicans generally, have consistently resisted anything that resembles national standards dictating what students across the country should know and learn.

"I think anytime there's a carrot approach, as opposed to a stick for continuing to raise the bar, I think that will be well received," Spellings said.

NCLB has pushed some states to weaken their standards to avoid consequences that arise when schools miss annual targets.

Kennedy and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have introduced legislation addressing the issue. The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, has endorsed Dodd's bill calling for voluntary national standards.

In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) before the Jan. 8 meeting, Spellings said there were a few "bright-line principles" the administration would not agree to alter under a rewrite of the law. Among them is the basic requirement that all students are proficient in reading and math by 2014--a goal many observers call unrealistic.

Spellings also said the administration was open to debating how progress should be measured. Critics, including the teachers' unions, have said the current law does not give enough credit to schools that make significant strides in student achievement but fall short of reaching an annual target.

In the AP interview, Spellings declined to preview the amount Bush would seek when he releases his annual budget in February. She did indicate an interest in getting more money to teachers who work in schools that have difficulty attracting people.

Bush sought $500 million from Congress for that purpose last year and got about $100 million.

"Our best teachers, or are most experienced teachers, are in places with our least challenged learners," Spellings said.

She also reaffirmed the administration's view that the law, which focuses on early and middle grades, should be expanded in high schools.

Links: Education Department background on NCLB

National Education Association

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