Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Educators feeling left behind

Educators feeling left behind
Changes requested on 5th anniversary of 'No Child' statute
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Angela Townsend
Plain Dealer Reporter
While the Bush administration touted the merits of No Child Left Behind on its fifth anniversary Monday, national and local educators called for changes in what they say is a flawed law.

No Child Left Behind won bipartisan backing when Congress passed it in 2002, and it's up for renewal this year.

The main goal is to have all students perform at grade level in reading and math by 2014.

That's admirable, educators say, but difficult to accomplish when financial constraints, uneven interpretations and an overemphasis on testing come with the package.

"There are too many people and too many school systems that are labeled as failing," National Education Association President Reg Weaver said Monday.

Instead of widespread sanctions, "let's figure out what's wrong and how we can help these people."

Schools that get federal aid but do not make enough progress must provide tutoring, allow students to transfer or initiate other reforms such as changing the staff.

The law's financial impact has been hard to quantify, but the cost includes teacher training, new textbooks and additional staffing. High-poverty districts like Cleveland, where many children are ill-prepared for school and lack family support, are especially challenged by the law's demands.

"Given the right resources, all problems can be adequately addressed," Cleveland schools CEO Eugene Sanders said. "But to expect a level of achievement to occur given that level of inequity. . . ?

"They basically say to you, 'Make it work,' but they don't give you the resources needed to make it work."

In a meeting on Monday with congressional leaders, President Bush pushed for the law's reauthorization but was noncommittal on their request for more money to help schools meet its requirements.

Paul Yocum, superintendent of the Cardinal district in Geauga County, echoed Sanders' complaints about the lack of money.

"We're not against upping the standards for our students," he said. "But when we're in a time of financial difficulty . . . it falls back on property owners - our voters."

Rick Buckosh, superintendent of the Clearview schools in Lorain County, said he has had to add remediation courses - not an easy thing to do when the district is laying off teachers.

Under No Child Left Behind, some veteran teachers are being told that they are not "highly qualified" to do their jobs.

Karen Vince, a special-education intervention specialist at Nordonia High School in Summit County, is one of 400 educators whose comments are included in a new NEA publication about the law.

"I've taught for 33 years, the majority of that in special education," said Vince, who this year has a class of 13 cognitively disabled students.

But holding the right license wasn't enough under the federal law. Two years ago, Vince's district sent her to four weeks of summer classes and one weekend workshop for coursework that transformed her into "highly qualified."

What did she learn?

"Basically, how to use the content standards book and some skills that are not applicable to what I teach," she said. "I had to take algebra . . . and I'm teaching my kids how to tell time."

Lawmakers outlined more concerns for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings during Monday's 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 the need to give students access to high-quality free tutoring.

Patti Picard, curriculum director for Hudson schools in Summit County, sees value in the law's clear standards, which have helped school districts set academic priorities, she said.

At the same time, such a strong emphasis on standardized testing is disconcerting, she added.

"When something like No Child Left Behind focuses so closely on a test score, it does affect the kind of teaching that you do," Picard said. "It becomes kind of a forced march."

She hopes legislators listen to the people who best know the challenges of teaching youngsters. Otherwise, she said, "I'm afraid that we're going to create a culture of people who have lost their zest for love of learning."

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-3894

© 2007 The Plain Dealer© 2007 All Rights Reserved.

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