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NCLB Outrages

Vt. teacher survey: 'No Child' a failure

Ohanian Comment: I would note that our little group in Vermont has gotten very good press out of this survey. As in front page above the fold stories in papers throughout the state. Clearly it gives reporters a local hook for the national story. In fact, this particular story was accompanied by a picture of Bush making a pictch for NCLB.

So far, the response of the state education department has been truly pathetic.

Now the job of my group is to follow this up with hard-hitting pieces about specifics. Our book attacking Dibels is the first. Not the last.

Stay tuned.

by Staff, Wire reports

MONTPELIER A group opposed to a federal education law said its effect on Vermont students and teachers is being misrepresented.

The Vermont Society for the Study of Education believes that the No Child Left Behind Act impairs teachers' abilities to offer a rich, comprehensive curriculum because they're forced to make sure students can pass federally mandated tests.

It worked with Dana Rapp, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, to study teachers' attitudes about how the law was affecting schools. "You can't walk away from this survey and say Vermont education is going in the right direction under No Child Left Behind," said Sid Glassner, executive director of the society.

The e-mail survey of teachers listed in a Vermont National Education Association database found that educators believed the federal law gave them less local control over curriculum, fails to reflect students' needs and makes school overall a less enriching experience, said Rapp, a resident of Readsboro.

"I can say that these themes resonate with teachers in my classroom," Rapp said at a Statehouse news conference.

Rapp said in an interview that the findings of the survey were significant because they contradict Gov. James Douglas' administration's suggestion that NCLB won't harm Vermont schools.

The survey found that 80 percent of teachers don't think that students' needs are reflected in NCLB. Additionally, 83 percent say that NCLB has a negative effect on education, with 44 percent characterizing it as a "very negative" effect.

"Overall, the results from this survey illuminate the disparity between what supporters and enforcers of No Child Left Behind are saying is happening in schools, and what teachers are reporting," said Rapp.

William Mathis, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, said his own research around the country suggested that teachers in Vermont were not alone. Few are happy with the law but they don't raise the issues because they worry if they did they could get into trouble, he said.

"What he's hearing from the teachers of Vermont is very similar to what we're hearing nationally," said Mathis, who said he expected to publish within a week a study about the law's requirement for "average yearly progress" toward educational goals for schools.

The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to meet certain standards to continue qualifying for federal financial assistance. The state Education Department recognizes there are a lot of complaints with it but argues that it has little control over the mandates.

"It's tough because No Child Left Behind is a federal law and we're required to comply," said Jill Remick, spokeswoman for the Education Department. "We're going to make absolutely sure it does not negatively affect Vermont kids."

Glassner said he believed the law already was hurting kids and he would be just as happy if the state opted out of complying.

Wesley Knapp, the superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, said the survey results were to be expected.

"I'm not surprised that there are a number of teachers and educators who think No Child Left Behind has a negative impact," said Knapp.

Knapp said he differs from many teachers, however, in that he supports the testing required by NCLB. According to the results of the survey, 99 percent of the 216 teachers polled thought they were "teaching to the test," meaning they spent too much time preparing the students for the exams and not focusing on other aspects of the students' education, such as class discussions and intellectually engaging activities.

"I don't buy the idea that they're teaching to the test. Any kid taught the material will be ready for the test," said Knapp. "They don't put out samples, so nobody knows what the test is going to be like."

Eugene Rudzewicz, an English teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School, agrees with poll results that suggest a majority of teachers are teaching specific skill sets for tests.

"We want them to test better, so we are teaching to the test in that sense," said Rudzewicz.

He said that the testing may encourage schools to "double up on math," causing a lack of focus on subjects such as art, drama and music, which have traditionally been part of students' education.

Rudzewicz said he understood the need to test the students, but he doesn't think the current legislation is adequate.

"I agree we have to see how we're doing and measure our progress, but I don't think we have done that," said Rudzewicz. "I would say that (No Child Left Behind) has a negative impact. The program is ill-conceived and not successful."

— staff. Wire reports
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