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NCLB Outrages

Education Secretary Says No Child Law's Rewards Are Greater Than Hardships

Yadda, yadda, yadda. The U. S. Department of Education is raking in lots of play nationwide out of Secretary Spellings' online Q & A. Papers in each locale run the questions of teachers in their regions, and none offers any scrutiny of Spellings' answers.

I run this one just as a sample. I lack the stamina to post any more. I'd have to post round-the-clock to get them all. The U. S. Department of Education is grinding out positive press notes at top notch speed. And the media continues to roll over and play dead. It makes one wonder why Dept. of Ed officials ever bothered to pay Armstrong Williams. Positive press is theirs for the taking.

By Gil Klein

WASHINGTON - Connie Gillespie, an eighth-grade counselor at Tomlin Middle School in Hillsborough County, is struggling with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

She says the law puts so much emphasis on achievement tests that Florida schools focus on test-taking. If she could, Gillespie would ask Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings this question:

``Your assistant secretary, Dr. [Susan] Sclafani, recently stated that, `School counselors must help schools recognize that assessments mandated by NCLB are just one measure of what students know. They are not all that should be accomplished by our schools.'

``But in my state, the money and therefore the focus is geared toward one measure: the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. How can No Child Left Behind be restated to encourage states like Florida to be more balanced?''

Normally, Gillespie would have no way to ask Spellings her question, but Media General News Service sat down this month with the education secretary and asked Gillespie's question and 21 others submitted by teachers who read Media General newspapers.

Many teachers feel affected by No Child Left Behind. Every school must make ``adequate yearly progress'' toward getting students proficient in reading and math by 2014. Schools that miss that goal from year to year are singled out as needing improvement. Some schools even have to give students the option to transfer to better-rated schools.

As President Bush's chief education adviser in his first term, Spellings was instrumental in creating the law. As education secretary in Bush's second term, she implements it.

Responding to Gillespie, Spellings defended the testing.

``The assessment data is really one of the most important indicators that we have because it's objective,'' she said. ``It's not something that can be easily manipulated, and it is an important way for us to understand really how well our schools are doing. There are other indicators, no doubt about it, but what gets measured gets done.''

Anita Altman, a teacher at Quail Hollow Elementary in Pasco County, asked, ``No Child Left Behind insists that children improve their skills each year from the previous year, yet at some schools children are already reading as well as they should be. Aren't you penalizing schools for doing a good job?''

``Absolutely not,'' Spellings replied. The focus of the law is on improving the performance of ``our nation's neediest kids,'' she said, because they are the ones who fall behind and drop out of high school. Getting those children to read on grade level in elementary school is ``job one'' of the law.

The law also is having a good effect on schools where students already perform on grade level, she said.

``As these policies mature, we're seeing a richening and a broadening and a strengthening of accountability systems so that they become more sophisticated over time,'' she said, ``so that we measure not just basic proficiency but also excellence.''

Maria Luzzi, who teaches special education at Tuckahoe Middle School in Henrico County, Va., wanted to know, ``How can we expect the schools to show yearly progress when we're constantly getting a new set of immigrants who have to start from the beginning to overcome language barriers, culture shock and economic hardships?''

Spellings, who was education adviser to then-Gov. Bush in Texas, said she has worked on the immigrant education problem for a long time and still doesn't know the answer.

``I've convened a group of experts and practitioners, educators, to see what we know about how best to serve those kids, and I'm looking for their guidance,'' she said. ``I want to do a lot of listening to the people who are out in the field and am hopeful that by the early part of the school year we'll have some additional clarification around our ability to better serve limited-English kids.''

Carol Shiavone, who teaches at Lee Elementary School of Technology in Tampa, sees schools penalized for not meeting the act's requirements. She wanted to know what the rewards are for bringing low-income students up to state standards.

``The joy and understanding that you've given the gift of literacy and learning to kids is its own reward,'' Spellings said.

Gil Klein is in Media General's Washington Bureau. He can be reached at (202) 662-7671.

— Gil Klein
Media General News Service


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