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NCLB Outrages

Kennedy Outlines Agenda for NCLB Reauthorization at National School Boards Association Conference

The machine that produced this text also produces sausages.

Could it fit in one more old tired bit of flotsam:

  • highest callings of public service

  • higher standards

  • strengthen America's future

  • advancing the American dream

  • level playing field

    And so on and so on.

    Senator Kennedy continues to ignore the deep-seated problems with NCLB; he continues to insist that it has improved schools.


    Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee addressed approximately 1,000 local school board members from across the country at the National School Boards Association's annual Federal Relations Network Conference.

    Senator Kennedy outlined his proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind law for the upcoming reauthorization. The bill was signed into law in 2002.

    Senator Kennedy said, “ ‘Reform and resources’ is still the right recipe for our schools. Each year yields greater success when educators commit in the long term to higher standards, better teacher training, stronger accountability, and extra help for students in need. As experience has shown, these good results are not possible without new investments.

    Included below are Senator Kennedy’s remarks as well as a summary of Senator Kennedy’s priorities for the reauthorization of NCLB.


    Thank you so much, Jane, for that generous introduction. It’s a privilege to join you today. NSBA is well-known for its leadership in guiding and mobilizing efforts at the federal, state and local levels, and I commend you for all you do so well.

    The governance of our nation’s schools is among the highest callings of public service. In 1966, during a visit to South Africa, my brother Bobby spoke of public service and of the ability of one individual to create change. He said:

    “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

    NSBA has always used its power to send forth such ripples of hope. As you organize your neighbors, form coalitions, stand up for parents and children, and dedicate your energy to improving the schools in your communities, each of you reflects in your work the mission that my brother gave voice to over 40 years ago.

    Today, more than ever before, we need your leadership and your service to help strengthen America’s future.

    That future depends on many things, but certainly one of the most important aspects of the strength of our democracy is the excellence of our public schools. As leaders and advocates of that excellence, each of you is at the forefront of the ongoing movement to improve our public schools. In Massachusetts, that movement began in 1837, when the father of public education – Horace Mann – campaigned relentlessly for the support and improvement of public schools.

    He reminded us that a free and public education was vital to our future. He brought intense public attention to inferior conditions in our schools. He fought to double the wages of teachers, improve textbooks, and build fifty new secondary schools across the state. And I’m told that he did it without measuring adequate yearly progress.

    We can learn a great deal from that pioneering spirit as we confront today’s challenge. No one disagrees that strengthening education is a key part of advancing the American dream.

    We must improve and strengthen early learning opportunities for each of the nation’s children.

    We must support and strengthen our elementary and secondary schools as indispensable fountains of learning capable of giving each student the opportunities to succeed.

    We must see that schools have the resources to educate students with disabilities and English language learners, so they can be given the opportunity to meet the same high standards as other students.

    We must remove the economic barriers to higher education. Our security is at stake, and we can’t permit the high cost of college to be an obstacle to education any longer.

    The federal government took a giant step toward these goals when President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law as part of the War on Poverty in 1965. It provided major new federal assistance to the nation’s schools to help offset the harmful effects of poverty, and make the door to the schoolhouse a true door to opportunity for even the most vulnerable students.

    Nearly four decades later – in 2002 – members of Congress in both parties came together with President Bush to pass the historic No Child Left Behind Act.

    As you know so well, the law was enacted at a defining moment in public education. New and dynamic challenges had emerged in the economic expansion of the 1990s, demanding major changes in America’s workforce and industry. Education quickly emerged as the indispensable means to meet these new challenges and maintain our progress in the world.

    At the same time, rampant inequality continued to pose an obstacle to opportunity and progress in many of our schools. The great hope of Brown vs. Board of Education – to provide quality education for all children – was still far from realized. African American and Latino students were not receiving the support they needed to succeed in school. By the century’s end, the reading and math skills of young graduates of color were equal to those of 13-year old white students. Only 52 percent of African American students and 56 percent of Latino students graduated from high school on time compared to 76% of white students.

    Clearly, we needed a new, national mandate to end these inequities, catalyze reform, and create a level playing field. The answer was the No Child Left Behind Act.

    Since the law’s enactment, schools have faced many challenges in implementation – the most serious of which has been a lack of funding. Problems were so severe in some places local leaders called for the law’s suspension or repeal. But, turning back the clock on the law is no solution – especially for the neediest students who gain the most from its reforms.

    The law’s commitment that every child counts – black or white, native-born or immigrant, disabled or non-disabled – is the right commitment for shaping accountability plans to hold schools responsible for progress. At the time, many state accountability requirements lacked the commitment to quality, equity, and adequacy necessary to ensure an excellent education for every child. Only four states accounted for and reported the achievement of every group of students in their schools.

    Today, all 50 states have standards, assessment, and accountability systems that enable us to track the achievement of every group of students.

    Every school now measures its performance - based not on the performance of its overall student population, but by its progress in closing achievement gaps and getting all students to meet high standards. Schools across the country are using data from assessments under the Act to identify weaknesses in instruction and areas of need for their students.

    In Baltimore, achievement of students in the third grade at Barrister Elementary School has increased 34 points. The school has virtually eliminated the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students, thanks to a curriculum better suited to their students’ needs, weekly meetings with teachers to review student work, and targeted help to children who need it most.

    In Mobile, Alabama, Austin Elementary School has made progress in closing the achievement gap, and the school’s leaders attribute the gain to No Child Left Behind’s focus on individual students. That success has encouraged the development of solutions to remove the specific barriers for each student. Additional time and particular intervention strategies are critical to ensuring students' progress.

    The law also recognized that although standards and assessments are critical building blocks of reform, more is needed to level the playing field in our schools. The law provided for targeted resources for our most vulnerable populations.

    As a result, over 1.3 million children now have the opportunity to participate in after-school programs and 430,000 children in struggling schools receive extra tutoring and academic support for students in struggling schools. The law has expanded support for early reading and literacy skills.

    It reaches out to give 1.5 million children of migrant workers, and children of immigrants the support and opportunities they need in order to master high standards and succeed in school. Since passage of the law, more than 900,000 homeless students have been identified and are now receiving needed supports.

    These resources have made a difference. At Granger High School in Granger, Washington, 84 percent of the students are low-income, 82 percent are Latino and about a third are children of migrant agricultural workers. In 2001, only 20 percent of the students met state reading standards, 11 percent met state writing standards, and just 4 percent met state math standards.

    The school’s guarantee of extra help to any student whose grades fall below a C has made a difference. In 2005, 61 percent of students met state reading standards, 51 percent met state writing standards, and 31 percent met state math standards.

    Granger High School has made impressive achievements, but still has far to go. Richard Esparza, the principal, recognizes the challenges ahead. His license plate reads “Se Puede” – it can be done.

    The No Child Left Behind Act also recognized the importance of teachers to student progress and required increased availability of professional development and a new focus on teacher qualifications. As a result, fewer teachers are teaching outside their area of expertise. In California, for example, the number of teachers who are not certified in the subject they are teaching was cut in half between 2001 and 2005.

    These are important advances in our nation’s schools and we should not dismiss them lightly.

    But more – much more – remains to be done.

    As we move to reauthorize the law this spring, our Committee on Education will hold a series of hearings and roundtable discussions to hear from experts like you and others on the front line living with the law’s challenges on a daily basis.

    We’ll move quickly on a bill that helps our schools advance – not retreat – to respond to the challenge of providing a good education to all students and closing the achievement gap. Our goal will be to work on a bipartisan basis to develop a strong bill that builds on the positive aspects of the law, meets the concerns about its implementation, and encourages reforms that will be effective in helping students succeed. Our strategy is to provide the solutions schools need to ensure that every student succeeds, and to consider new and creative ideas to help the law work for all students.

    First, we’ll do more to see that resources are available to bring needed reforms to schools.

    “Reform and resources” is still the right recipe for our schools. Each year yields greater success when educators commit in the long term to higher standards, better teacher training, stronger accountability, and extra help for students in need. As experience has shown, these good results are not possible without new investments.

    This effort will require a broad partnership with parents, school leaders, local communities, states, and the federal government, and we’ll insist that Uncle Sam do more to fulfill his commitment to that partnership.

    In preparing the law in 2002, we recognized that a continuous infusion of federal resources would be critical to achieve its goals. At the time the law passed, Congress delivered $22 billion to support public education – an increase of 20 percent over the previous year – an unprecedented federal investment.

    The law also promised increased funding levels over the life of its provisions, in step with the increase in targets for student performance. But that commitment was not met.

    Today, half of all public school districts face funding cuts - at a time when the No Child law is asking them to do even more. Last year, every state was required to implement reading and math tests in every grade and new standards in science. Proficiency goals increased in 35 states and over 9,000 low-income schools have been identified as needing improvement under the law.

    The federal government has also failed to fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act adequately. We are already over $6 billion short of the commitment made just two years ago when we renewed that law.

    We cannot reform our schools and move forward in this new century to master the nation’s challenges on a tin cup education budget. When we say no child left behind, we mean no child. We have to be willing to make the tough choices and the hard sacrifices to improve education in America. More than ever before in our history, it’s the key to future opportunity and success for children, and we don’t intend to fall short.

    Second, we’ll find more effective ways to measure progress, see that all students are reaching high standards, and focus on the lowest performing schools instead of labeling so many schools as failures.

    It’s essential to improve our system of accountability. We need more effective ways to measure student progress towards grade level standards. We also need to create incentives for states to see that their standards are not just nationally but internationally competitive, so that graduates can be successful in this new global economy.

    We must focus as well on interventions in schools with the greatest challenges. Some problems can be addressed with targeted strategies. Others need a more aggressive response.

    Greater emphasis is needed to help struggling schools turn around. Our goal for schools needing improvement is new investments, not punitive policies.

    This means building an infrastructure at the state and local level to respond to the over 9,000 low-income schools identified for improvement under No Child Left Behind’s accountability standards. We’ll explore new partnerships to provide the expert attention and assistance essential for progress by these schools. Teachers and principals need innovative ways to understand the available data and use it to improve teaching in the classroom. We’ll explore ways to encourage individualized instruction for students, and additional time for planning and support for teachers.

    If schools that miss the mark are truly on their way toward improving, we’ll give them ample time under the law to demonstrate and document their progress.

    Third, we’ll look for creative ideas to meet our common goal to turn-around struggling schools, including extended school days, parent and community initiatives, and high school reform.

    Accountability for progress must not result in narrowing curriculums. Expanding the school day can help here. At Roxbury Prep Charter School in Massachusetts, an expanded day has meant increased time for instruction in math and English, but it has also brought time for new enrichment activities, including athletics and the arts. Test scores have risen, and so have graduation rates. On the 2006 8th grade math test, Roxbury Prep outperformed every school district in the entire state.

    We also need to do more to respond to the non-academic needs of students, which make such a difference in how well children learn in school. That means support for community programs to meet children’s social, emotional, and physical needs. It means making parent involvement a top priority, and offering support to schools to involve parents and families more effectively in their child’s education.

    Last year, a Massachusetts pilot initiative placed 15 full-time Family and Community Outreach Coordinators in Boston Public Schools. The Coordinators were responsible for supporting families, teachers, and the community in a common effort to help students excel academically and socially.

    We know that integrated support services increase graduation rates and student achievement. In one national study, 82 percent of students improved their attendance in school, 89 percent of students had fewer suspensions, 98 percent of students stayed in school and 85 percent of eligible seniors graduated.

    As we help schools meet high goals for student proficiency, we must be careful to see that students are not dropping out. We need all students to reach high standards, not just the ones left standing as more and more students drop out. According to the Department of Education, 3.7 million students age 16 to 24 had dropped out of school. Numbers like that are clearly unacceptable.

    Individualized help is needed for students struggling in math and reading at the secondary school level. Dropout recovery programs are essential as well, and so are smaller learning communities in large schools. And all students, of course, deserve a challenging college-prep curriculum.

    These strategies have been shown to work. In the late 1990’s, Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia was seen as one of the worst high schools in the city. In 2001, only 2 percent of its eleventh grade students were proficient in mathematics, and none were proficient in reading. Less than a third of its students graduated. Today, after implementation of a range of whole school reforms, including smaller learning communities within the school and intensive professional development, Strawberry Mansion is an example of a high school that has completely turned around. Over the past six years, the number of students proficient in mathematics has increased by 51 percentage points and the number proficient in reading by 35 percentage points. The graduation rate has doubled.

    Fourth, we must renew our commitment to teacher quality and help the neediest schools to attract and keep good teachers.

    We know that teachers are the most important resource in any school. We will never close the achievement gap unless students have well-qualified teachers and the other support they need.
    We also recognize that the best teachers are not just well-qualified by professional development standards. There is also an intangible quality, a dedication, a chemistry, that enables the best teachers to reach the heart as well as the mind of a young student, and plant a seed of learning that will long endure. I was struck by a survey I saw recently showing that student rankings of their best teachers often tended to single out persons who had little advanced training or degrees, but who nevertheless had a special talent in the classroom.

    We need to do all we can to see that this kind of talent is nurtured in modern professional development, so that when we speak of well-qualified teachers, this special quality will also be part of the equation.

    We must make attracting and keeping good teachers in the neediest schools a top priority. Students in the highest poverty schools are assigned novice teachers almost twice as often as students in low poverty schools, and the same is true in schools with a high minority population. We need incentives to attract the best teachers to the schools that need them most, and increased salaries for those with a track-record of success who can help their peers improve their teaching ability and succeed in the profession.

    Many districts are implementing these reforms with dramatic results. Bell Street Middle School in Clinton, South Carolina offered teachers career advancement opportunities, ongoing professional development, opportunities for collaboration, and higher pay based on effectiveness and the willingness to take on leadership roles. Before these changes were implemented, teacher turnover was a serious problem – 40% of teachers left in 1999 and 32% left in 2000. In the last three years, the turnover rate has been consistently below 10%.

    In Chattanooga, the Benwood Initiative focused on the nine lowest-performing elementary schools in the city. The initiative expanded professional development, mentoring and other support for teachers. It established a principal leadership academy and offered incentives such as bonuses and low-interest mortgages for high-performing teachers and principals to teach in the highest need schools. In just two years, from 2003 to 2005, the number of fifth graders who were proficient in reading increased 18 percentage points, and fifth graders proficient in math increased 19 percent percentage points.

    These are just a few of the reforms we have learned about in the past five years, and I look forward to working with each of you as we seek needed improvements in the law.

    For over two centuries, educational opportunity has been an enduring American truth. John Adams, of Massachusetts, emphasized this commitment in 1780, when he said, education of the people was “necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberty.”

    What’s needed now is a recommitment to that spirit, and to the principles of excellence and equality of opportunity that have shaped federal legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act. We must build on these principles and ensure they’re fulfilled.

    As Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There is no easy way to create a world . . . where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. But if such a world can be created in our lifetime, it will be done in the United States . . . by people of good will.”

    We’ll be a large step closer to that goal, with your help, when we successfully reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act this year. Thank you very much.

    NCLB Reauthorization Proposals


    Supporting High-Quality Teaching. Senator Kennedy’s proposal would identify high performing teachers and provides them career advancement opportunities (additional pay with additional responsibilities) so that our best teachers can earn more money, move ahead, and serve as instructional leaders and mentors to new teachers. He would shift professional development under his plan toward a model that’s more relevant to teacher’s needs to help teachers take charge of their own growth. Senator Kennedy would explore ways to expand the law’s requirements to promote teacher effectiveness (in addition to the subject matter competencies already required under the law), and he strongly supports closing the teacher distribution gap so that all students (regardless of race and income) have access to an excellent teacher.

    Better Solutions for Low-Performing Schools. Senator Kennedy believes that it’s important to re-affirm that NCLB is not designed as a tool to criticize public schools, but instead to identify challenges and address them. He supports funding to ensure that states have the resources needed to deliver expert technical assistance and help to schools needing improvement or corrective action. Senator Kennedy’s proposal would help train teachers in low-performing schools on how to use data to improve instruction, better align curriculum and instruction to standards, provide educational advisors and coaches with specific expertise in turning around low-performing schools, and pair low-performing with similar higher-performing schools.

    Strengthening Parent-Community Involvement. Active parent and community involvement is critical to the academic success of students. Senator Kennedy’s proposal would encourage parent, family, and community involvement in schools, by providing parent-family outreach coordinators in low-income schools. Under his plan, this coordinator would serve as a liaison with the community, oversee parent engagement and activities, and help access outside services and supports for children.

    High School and Middle School Modernization: A critical part of ensuring our students are prepared to meet the 21st century demands of college and the workplace is the modernization of our middle and high schools. Senator Kennedy supports individualized help for students struggling in math and reading at the secondary school level. He also believes we need to bring greater alignment between middle and high schools standards and curriculum and the expectations of college and the workplace through the standards initiative described above, but also through promotion of models that allow students to pursue college level work as soon as possible, such as dual enrollment, early college, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced Placement programs. He supports greater investments in dropout prevention and recovery programs, and the creation of small schools and smaller learning communities within large schools.

    Rigorous State Standards. As today’s economy re-defines the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global marketplace, it´s crucial now more than ever for our schools to challenge all students to learn to high standards. Senator Kennedy’s proposal would modernize public education by disseminating national benchmarks and providing assistance to states to upgrade and improve academic standards and curriculum, to better match what students need to know and be able to do as they enter college or the workforce. His proposal would also establish State Councils (comprised of the education community, business, and other state and local stakeholders) to facilitate this process.

    Improving Student Assessment. Not only is assessment an important tool in teaching and learning, but the accountability decisions under NCLB are only as good as the instruments used to measure student achievement. Senator Kennedy supports enhancing the quality of assessments under the law so that they’re more useful and appropriate for teachers and students. His proposal would create a new fund for states to develop better assessment and data systems that track the progress and growth of students from year to year, and to review and improve assessments and policies for limited English proficient and special needs children – two populations for which NCLB’s current assessments are less than adequate.

    Press Contact

    Laura Capps/Melissa Wagoner (202) 224-2633

    — Sen. Edward Kennedy
    Press Release


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