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NCLB Outrages

Crowd gives federal education law an F

Ohanian Comment: The question is: Did anybody listen? Did any of them care? The second question is: Why so few people in the audience? I'm not sure it would have mattered if 5,000 disgruntled people had been in the audience, but it would have been a good show.

By David Colbert

NEWBURYPORT A gathering of about 50 parents, educators and school committee members addressing U.S. Congressman John Tierney Thursday night focused on two themes: more money for education and freedom from bureaucracy.

Tierney, D-Salem, hosted a "No Child Left Behind Education Listening Tour" at the Newburyport Public Library a few hours after holding a similar session in Danvers. He was seeking input in preparation for Congress's deliberations on the No Child Left Behind Act, the education law that was first approved in 2002 and is slated for re-authorization in 2007.

The gathering represented a wide spectrum of interests, from one father with a daughter with special needs to parents wishing public schools could do more for gifted-and-talented children. Speakers disagreed on the quality of public education in Massachusetts.

But all advocated for improvements to the public school system, and nearly all said the state and federal governments need to kick in more funding for education, particularly to help schools meet mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Others criticized the MCAS exam, which was installed by the state prior to the No Child Left Behind Act as the standard assessment system.

Tom Atwood, chairman of the Pentucket Regional School Committee, spoke of the difficulties the district faces in meeting progress standards and having to prepare students for an additional MCAS exam in science.

"These communities ... really don't have the resources to support what's required," he said.

Some parents said schools are addressing special education needs, but had to send gifted children to read books in the corner while preparing other students for MCAS exams. Other parents said schools did not have adequate funding for arts programs or even for textbooks.

"I feel the impact No Child Left Behind has had is that no child is moving forward," said Meryl Goldsmith, an Amesbury mother.

Paul Jancewicz, speaking as a parent and an Amesbury Middle School teacher, said "too many cooks" are setting education guidelines, but not allocating enough money for programs.

"It's a time of great stress," he said. "We wanted to have a debate club, but we couldn't fund it."

Paul Georges, a Newbury resident and head of Lowell's teaching union, stressed that Massachusetts schools are tops in the nation, but are being undermined in part because some people want to see them become privatized.

"Maybe the citizens shouldn't be pointing the finger at each other, but at the federal government, the Bush administration for not funding the bills," he said.

Tierney did not disagree, saying the federal government should at least provide the money it initially promised with the No Child Left Behind Act, which he called "woefully under-funded."

He also said he was surprised Massachusetts residents were not acting en masse to demand that education be funded through the state rather than through local property taxes.

Paul McIsaac drew applause for passionately decrying requirements that "homogenize the whole process."

"We're not fostering innovators. We're not fostering inventors. We're fostering rote learners. Where is the next Einstein going to come from?" he asked. "... I think the MCAS should be thrown out the window. I think the No Child Left Behind Act should be scrapped and we should start fresh with something that works."

Attending the forum along with Tierney were representatives for senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy and Alex Nock, director of the NCLB Commission, which is making recommendations to Congress on how to improve the No Child Left Behind Act.

— David Colbert
The Daily News of Newburyport


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