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NCLB Outrages

State Commissioner: NCLB won't harm Vt. schools

Ohanian Comment: The Vermont State Education Commissioner seems to be telling parents not to worry about NCLB, that it will go away.
"They are redefining what 2014 means," said Cate. "I wouldn't worry about it."

I am currently working on a paper detailing how NCLB has already deformed Vermont's education ideals.

By Howard Weiss-Tisman

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - WESTMINSTER -- State Education Commissioner Richard Cate traveled to southern Vermont on Monday to meet with parents and answer questions about schools on a local and state level.

Cate was at the Bellows Falls Union High School for one of his organized group of meetings to talk with parents.

The issues ranged from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, to the state's complicated funding formula, to the amount of time children spend outside during gym class.

"I have a fairly good connection with legislators and superintendents, but it is not always easy to reach out to parents," Cate told the small audience of about a dozen people. "My staff suggested that I get out and see what the people have to say."

Vermont children just finished the standardized testing required under No Child Left Behind and Cate told the crowd that while he will follow all federal laws, test results will remain only one yardstick by which to measure how the schools and students are doing.

"Education will always be about what is going on in the classroom," Cate said. "I will never change direction for the federal law."

Vermont has some of the best schools in the country, national data show. Cate said No Child Left Behind was largely written to address issues in larger, urban districts, and while the law does bring requirements, Cate said regardless of what national reports say, the law will not have a negative impact on Vermont schools.

"We had assessments before the law, we had qualified teachers before the law," said Cate. "We got this figured out. We know how to get this done and we're just going to do it."

Cate is a supporter of early education and he said he will continue to support improvements in how the state educates children in pre-kindergarten.

Laurie Rowell of Saxtons River asked Cate about what the Vermont standards are for civics. "I've got kids that are 10, 12 and 14," she said. "They don't know Paul Revere, they don't know Hitler, they don't know Lincoln; that's wrong."

Cate agreed and said the state Board of Education is looking into expanding the civics requirement.

Throughout the evening, regardless of the topic at hand, the discussion came back to funding.

Whether talking about special education, providing expanded social services or districts grappling with budgets, Cate was forced to talk about how the state funds its school system.

Cate called the funding system "complex. It is kind of a mystery to most people."

He said the internal mechanism that punishes districts that spend more than the state appointed threshold may bear scrutiny in the future.

The way the law is now written, schools are allowed to spend up to a certain amount. If the district goes over that number, some of the money is sent to Montpelier to be distributed around the state.

Schools that are struggling to improve must sometimes make hard decisions and cut costs just as they are getting above water.

Cate said he would not be surprised if that particular aspect was looked at in the future.

"In any formula adjustments are made," said Cate.

Two schools in Bennington are experimenting with offering expanded social services including a dentist and mental health counseling.

Cate said that while it might work in Bennington, he did not see the education department playing an expanded role in that.

"It is dangerous to presume there is one model to fit every school," he said. "There has to be a local desire to make it happen. We'd have to be careful to over reach out authority in that regard."

Windham Northeast Assistant Superintendent Catherine Davignon said she was heartened by what Cate said about standardized tests, but she asked him what might happen in 2014. The No Child Left Behind Law states that every child will be performing at grade level in 2014.

"Anxiety levels are up. We hear about (yearly progress) and safe harbor and technical assessment," she said. "How is that going to play out?"

Cate said he has been taking a part in conversation on a national level and he said the federal government is beginning to understand that it is unrealistic to expect all children to be at grade level.

"They are redefining what 2014 means," said Cate. "I wouldn't worry about it."


— Howard Weiss-Tisman
Brattleboro Reformer


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