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'No Child Left Behind" law gets review: Meetings focus on renewal of No Child Left Behind Act

George Sheridan Comment: The California Department of Education is organizing the meetings. Jack O'Connell, who heads the CDE, wants to "combine" California's accountability system (API) with the federal system (AYP), perhaps by eliminating the requirement that all students reach "proficiency." California politicians are in a box of their own making. Their definition of "proficiency" is "prepared to enter the University of California without any remediation" - a goal previously attainable by fewer than 10% of high school graduates and clearly above any reasonable definition of "grade level" or what is possible for all students. But they don't want to be seen as backing down on high standards. Hence the attempt to be graded on progress, rather than attainment. Note the comment in the article about trying to get all of California to speak with one voice.

California Business for Educational Excellence (the Business Roundtable in its California incarnation) opposes the Superintendent on this issue.

By Laurel Rosenhall

What do you think about the No Child Left Behind law?

California education officials want to know.

In a series of meetings this week -- including one in Natomas -- they are taking public comment on the federal law that is supposed to close the academic achievement gap but has riled educators in the process.

No Child Left Behind is a sweeping federal law that, when signed by President Bush in 2002, set new standards for education in all the nation's schools. Its impacts are most noticeable in schools serving the neediest students -- those that receive federal funds for educating the poor.

The law establishes requirements for teacher qualifications and sets targets for proficiency in math and reading, with a goal that all students will perform at grade level in those subjects by 2014. Schools that fail to meet targets for two years in a row face a series of sanctions that start with allowing students to transfer to other schools and advance to total restructuring.

The law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress next year, and educators are starting to strategize on how to lobby lawmakers to change it.

"As we begin the conversation about reauthorization, one thing we thought really important was that, to the extent possible, California speak with one voice," said Rick Miller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, which organized the meetings this week for teachers, administrators and parents to weigh in.

Four meetings in four cities will each focus on a different aspect of the law. After gathering input from across California, state education officials will put together a report for Congress recommending changes to No Child Left Behind.

This morning in Santa Clara, the meeting will address the law's system for measuring test performance, known as Adequate Yearly Progress. State education officials have long opposed the federal system, which looks at how many students are reading and doing math at grade level, in favor of the California system, which looks at whether test scores have improved over time.

State Superintendent Jack O'Connell has said he is working with federal education officials to merge the two systems. But supporters of No Child Left Behind say that's a bad idea.

"Until they start talking about grade-level proficiency, this is a gerrymandering of accountability," said Jim Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence, a group of business leaders who support the federal education law.

This afternoon in Natomas, the meeting will focus on what happens to schools that don't meet their academic targets. Under the law, they must go through a series of interventions -- first allowing students to leave the school, then offering free tutoring and finally removing a principal or becoming a charter school.

Speakers at the Natomas meeting have been asked to address whether these interventions are working and how they could be improved. Studies have shown that very few people at low-performing schools take advantage of the options for tutoring and switching schools.

"Transferring your child to another school has been resoundingly rejected by parents as something they don't want to do," Sacramento County Superintendent David Gordon said.

On Tuesday in Fresno, the meeting will look at the aspects of the law that govern teacher qualifications.

"My concern has always been that the qualifications don't always translate into quality teaching," Gordon said. "So I'd like to see that whole thing move to a highly effective teacher and try to get some measure of that."

The final meeting will be Wednesday in Glendale, when educators will examine how No Child Left Behind has affected the instruction of students who are not native English speakers. The law requires they be tested just like all other students and make the same progress toward grade-level proficiency in math and reading. But many schools with large numbers of students learning English have been unable to meet the targets and have wound up facing sanctions.

Be heard

What: Public meeting to discuss suggested changes to the federal No Child Left Behind education law
When: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. today
Where: Natomas Unified School District boardroom, 1901 Arena Blvd., Sacramento

For more information on the meetings, see the Web site http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/re/et/ yr06ltr1002.asp#att
Unfortunately, this url is wrong. Try it and you get this message from the California Department of Education: We redesigned our www.cde.ca.gov web site recently. This redesign may be the cause of the incorrect URL address. We are sorry for any inconvenience. The requested web page at URL http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/re/et/ yr06ltr1002.asp was not found on our web site. There is either a misspelling in the URL you entered, or the requested web page has moved or is no longer available.

— Laurel Rosenhall
Sacramento Bee


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