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NCLB Outrages

Martin educator among 16 nationally working to change federal NCLB Act

This is a very odd story.

By Kelly Tyko

INDIANTOWN To make sure schools don't leave children behind, Larthenia Howard has taken three trips to Washington, D.C., and spent countless hours on the phone and writing e-mails.

The assistant principal at Indiantown Middle School was one of 16 educators nationwide to draft proposed changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Last week, she briefed Capitol Hill officials on 21 recommendations, which vary from different guidelines in states to finding better ways to recruit special education teachers.

"There are all these little holes in the law. We think if we were to plug those holes the law would be more consistent, be more fair, be more flexible in certain areas and it would gain greater capacity for student learning," said Howard, a Fort Pierce resident.

"We are 100 percent in support of No Child Left Behind. However, we just think we can do better."

Howard, 38, was the only Florida member on a task force of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Hundreds of school administrators applied to be on the task force. Members were chosen based on knowledge of the education law and challenges with it in their own schools, said association spokeswoman Michelle White.

With the law up for reauthorization in 2007, the association wanted the recommendations out early so it could influence new policies, White said.

'See the frustration'

Indiantown Middle Principal Debra Henderson said having Howard as a member of the task force helps "represent our population on a national level." About 57 percent of the school's students are considered "limited English proficient." Ninety-six percent of the school's students receive free or reduced lunch.

The Title I school has not made "adequate yearly progress" under the federal accountability plan and received a C grade under the state's "A-plus" plan, six points from receiving a B.

Howard specifically focused on working on recommendations that could make a difference at her school and others like it.

One of her concerns with the law is that it requires students, for whom English is their second language, to be proficient or at grade level in two years. Howard, who has a master's and doctorate degrees from Nova Southeastern University, points to research showing it can take seven to 10 years for students to be on target.

"I see the frustration all the time," she said. "It's so heartbreaking to see students who tried the best that they could crying and calling themselves dumb."

'A personal stake'

During her trip to Washington last week, Howard met with Florida representatives, senators and their staffs. Bridget Walsh, a deputy legislative director with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's office, said the task force is an influential and important group.

"They are the ones leading our schools to make them better and more accountable," Walsh said. "Senator Nelson is very open to learning about how we can improve this bill and make it even better, so that we can make a real difference in kids' lives."

Howard agrees. That's why she's been an educator since 1989 and has spent the past six years at Indiantown Middle. She said she thinks the task force made progress briefing officials.

"We wanted to make sure as best as we could that the intent of the law was being followed as closely as possible," she said. "I have a personal stake in this and to the children."

- kelly.tyko@scripps.com

Suggested changes to No Child Left Behind Act

Funding should not be taken away as a sanction for Title I schools that are not meeting proficiency levels.

All public, charter and nonpublic schools receiving federal funds should be required to use the same state assessment and meet the same state criteria for determining adequate yearly progress.

The graduation rate should be extended to within at least five years of entering high school.

To see all the task force's recommendations, log on to www.principals.org/nclb.

Source: National Association of Secondary School Principals

— Kelly Tyko
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers


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