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Sunday, November 08, 2009

National commission wants to 'fix' No Child Left Behind

November 3, 2009

DENVER - For years, teachers around the country have expressed their opinions on the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal mandate on school reform is loved by some and hated by others. Now, it's in line for an overhaul.

"It's an especially important opportunity for us to look back at what has worked or what hasn't over the last seven years," Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) said.

Johnston led Wednesday's hearing of the No Child Left Behind Commission for the Aspen Institute, an independent national group which plans to make comprehensive recommendations to Congress on how to fix the NCLB act.

"The silver bullet is: how do we get a lot more highly effective teachers and principals in the classroom?" Johnston said.

The commission includes bi-partisan members such as Dr. Jane Hannaway, director of the Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C.; Dr. J, Michael Ortiz, president of California State Polytechnic University; Governor Roy Barnes from Georgia; and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The commission heard testimony from Colorado Lt. Governor Barbara O'Brien, a former educator herself.

"I think we are all here today because we know we must do better and we can't wait," O'Brien said. "Figuring out how to have a real dialogue and a flexible relationship that lets us all learn from what's working well and from where we're struggling."

Dr. F. King Alexander also testified. He is president of California State University, which graduates the most teachers in the country. Alexander says his school has established a way to evaluate teachers' skills in the classroom which can be used by the government.

"We know where our teachers fall. We know where our weaknesses are in these specific areas," Alexander said.

Dennis Van Roekel is president of the National Education Association, the teachers union. He says teachers should not be assessed on periodic 30-minute visits to the classroom, a method used by many school districts currently.

"There is another model out there for measuring the effectiveness of teachers and that's the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards," Van Roekel said. "It focuses on the practice of doing the profession."

Aqua Stovall is a principal from a school in New Orleans. She told the commission about rebuilding a district from scratch after Hurricane Katrina. She says principals and teachers get burned out if they're not trained to deal with the social dynamics surrounding a school.

"I think so many new teachers are thrown into a system and they don't really understand that school culture and behavior are so important in leading instruction," Stovall said.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg says No Child Left Behind needs to take into account the needs of urban districts and their demographics.

"It must be done cooperatively," Boasberg said. "I think that diversity is critical."

The Aspen Institute will submit its reform plan to Congress who will ultimately make the decisions on what changes, if any, to make to the No Child Left Behind Act. The Aspen Institute is not affiliated with any party and is partly funded by groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Joyce Foundation, and the GE Foundation.

"If we could just solve the teacher and principal problem," Johnston said. "We would solve more than 60 percent of the total impact on student achievement within a classroom."
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