You Can't Set Lofty Goals without Resources
This is an atrocity because it shows how NCLB ignores the possibilites that funding can bring to poor rural districts.
THERE'S lots of excitement when a new young teacher like Ashley Jones comes to a rural school. Here in Beaufort County, in eastern North Carolina, where the cotton fields meet the saltwater marshes of Pamlico Sound, it is hard to find young teachers. Four months into the school year, the high school still cannot fill a math teaching position. Those who apply are often middle-aged men and women changing careers after a farm goes broke or a textile mill closes.
Miss Jones is 22. Teaching sixth grade at Bath Elementary is her first job out of college, and they are so glad to have her.
"Miss Jones is different," said Michael Harris, a sixth grader. "She seems to know more about kids. It's like she knows exactly what we think."
Oh, Miss Jones knows. They're thinking "treats," 24/7. When 11 students met their silent-reading goal in the first quarter, Miss Jones took them to Bonner's Point for a picnic — smack in the middle of the day, two hours out of class. "Now everyone wants to make their reading goal," Miss Jones says. "I promised them a treat, but they didn't know it would be something so great."
For sixth graders who made the honor roll, Miss Jones had ice cream sandwiches.
"She gives us a brain teaser every morning," Eric Smith said, "If we get it right, we get a candy treat from the goody jar."
As Miss Jones says, "Just something to get their little brains working first thing, to calm them down when they're all chitter-chattery."
Miss Jones has created a class Web page full of photographs taken with Miss Jones's new digital camera showing pupils having fun in Miss Jones's class, and, if they are very good girls and boys, they can sit at Miss Jones's desk and view that Web page on Miss Jones's computer.
Everyone loved her social studies unit on the rain forest. She turned the room into a jungle, bringing in ferns, hibiscus, orchids. She hung green crepe-paper vines from the ceiling and filled them with toy monkeys from the Dollar Tree store. Soon, they were all helping the rain forest grow. Savanna Boyd brought in three fake palm trees.
"I brought in stuff that comes from the rain forest, like banana chips and trail mix," said Kassie Sasnett. Savanna and Kassie love Miss Jones; she's just like they are: young, available and ready for adventure.
"She's put a spark in our building," Joy Henderson, the music teacher, said. Miss Jones is often the first in, and makes the coffee in the teachers' lounge. It was Miss Jones's idea to start a Friday potluck lunch with teachers taking turns making food for the whole staff.
"Such a bubbly person," said Pam Carson, a veteran teacher, and the principal, Pam Hodges, said, "As natural a teacher as I've ever seen."
But Miss Jones's arrival at Bath Elementary was not totally an act of nature. She is a seed planted by the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program. Since 1986, the state has paid for 400 top high school seniors each year to attend a state college for four years, with a $26,000 stipend. In return, they must teach for four years in public schools. It is highly competitive (2,200 applied last year), attracting top students. Teaching fellows have an average combined SAT score of 1198, compared with a state average of 988 for college freshmen. And most stay when their four years are up. After 12 years, 63 percent of fellows are still teaching, compared with a state average of 49 percent, according to the Public School Forum, the nonprofit organization based in Raleigh that runs the program.
And because fellows are selected from all over the state, they teach all over, working in 99 of 100 counties.
Thanks to the stipend, Laura Bilbro Berry, who was raised by a single mother, could afford the University of North Carolina. She loved the enrichment given fellows, including a weeklong bus tour of state public schools; a week in a district shadowing everyone from the superintendent to the janitor; a trip through Colonial and Civil War sites in the Northeast; and an etiquette class.
Still, Ms. Berry's first year teaching was a disaster. "A very poorly run school," she said, "I would have quit, if I didn't owe the state four years — or the money back."
Nearly 20 percent of North Carolina teachers do quit in their first year. But Ms. Berry had to stick it out, and years later, for her impressive work at a poor, heavily black Beaufort school she was named the state's 2000 teacher of the year.
Ron Clark, the 2001 Walt Disney national teacher of the year, said he would never have chosen teaching if not for the state's program.
North Carolina's decade-old accountability system was a model for the federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002. But while North Carolina has backed its system with substantial financing — reducing class size to 16 at low-performing schools, providing support teams to principals at those schools and creating the fellows program to improve teaching — the Bush administration has been widely criticized for underfinancing No Child Left Behind, at $6 billion below what the law allows.
Indeed, Representative Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, a Democrat who voted for No Child Left Behind, has filed a bill that would prohibit enforcing the law unless it is fully financed.
"You can't set lofty goals without resources," said Sara Lang, an Etheridge aide. "It's a cruel trick."
One of the loftiest mandates is that every teacher in the United States be "highly qualified" by 2005. Even rabid supporters of the law, like the Education Trust, have criticized Bush officials for doing so little to help states meet this standard.
Miss Jones and her rain forest are Exhibit A for what could be. Representative David E. Price of North Carolina has sponsored legislation that would replicate the fellows program nationally at a cost of $300 million. The Republican-controlled House killed his bill twice, but Mr. Price, a Democrat, is trying again.
Asked whether Bush administration officials might support it this session, Eugene Hickock, acting deputy education secretary, said: "Philosophically the administration is on the record as being eager to find a variety of ways to help states develop highly qualified teachers. We'd be glad to look at it."
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