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NCLB Outrages

Hoekstra lets schools have their say on No Child Left Behind Act

So where are the teacher unions in Michigan? They should be working with Hoekstra to defeat NCLB.

By Elizabeth Council

Educators along the Lakeshore from Holland to Holton met with U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, this week to brief him on "the good, the bad, and the ugly" of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2002, the act introduced a new set of requirements for teachers and administrators ΓΆ€” requiring 100 percent of students test "proficient" in English and math by 2014.

Hoekstra, who voted against the measure, told Muskegon-area educators Wednesday he thinks the act allows for too much federal control.

"K-12 education is still primarily a local and state issue, and not a federal issue," said Hoekstra, who is now third in seniority on the House Education Committee.

Hoekstra held four separate meetings Tuesday and Wednesday with educators throughout Michigan's 2nd Congressional District, asking them to fill him in on what works and what has not worked for West Michigan school districts.

"It's one of those things that, in my opinion ΓΆ€” in concept and in reality ΓΆ€” it's pushed the envelope with education," said Larry Mason, superintendent for Spring Lake Public Schools. Officials from Spring Lake attended Thursday's meeting in Holland.

"We needed that accountability," Mason added. "At the same time, it's time to tweak it. It's time to make some adjustments to it."

The five-year law is up for reauthorization this year. Hoekstra said the new version of NCLB could include more testing, with the possibility of a national assessment test once a year, every year for students in grades 3-11. These tests could also have a broader range, possibly including science, Hoekstra said.

Hoekstra said he agrees with the underlying philosophies of the NCLB act, but said he would like to see more federal flexibility, leaving implementation of the program up to states.

"Right now, we're asking you to do one thing, states are asking something else ΓΆ€” and you're caught in the middle," he said.

Educators showed concern for excessive testing, saying third-graders are being "tested to death," and that the heavy amount of assessments could turn students away from school. They suggested tracking individual achievement instead by using a growth-based model so that student progress, regardless of ability, could be better measured.

"Tracking individual students makes more sense," Hoekstra agreed.

Districts with declining enrollment are finding it even more difficult to achieve NCLB requirements, administrators said.

As students leave for districts with higher assessment scores, the school with lower progress scores continues to suffer, they said.

"We've been so fortunate that we've been able to grow," Mason said. "We're struggling to make it work financially. How does a school that's losing students stay?"

Other concerns brought to Hoekstra's attention dealt with the records process; and flexibility within the law to better track subgroup students ΓΆ€” such as those who speak English as a second language, students with learning disabilities, and those who are emotionally and cognitively impaired.

"I believe what happened with No Child Left Behind was that we created incentives that create barriers for at-risk kids to come into your schools ΓΆ€” (a) disincentive to what we want to create," Hoekstra said.

Educators said the lack of flexibility for subgroup students means overall assessment scores for some schools are lowered. One Muskegon-area school administrator said her high school did not meet adequate yearly progress due to assessment scores from its special education students.

Administrators from the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District told Hoekstra that for smaller schools, just one or two special education students can throw the entire school off from making adequate yearly progress under the NCLB Act.

"I have some problems with the expectations there," Mason said. "It's almost impossible for them to have the same percentage of their handicapped students do as well as their students with no difficulties."

Administrators said budget restraints have forced them to cut teachers and class aids, even though they say it costs more to educate special education children.

"There are terrible flaws in that part of the law," said one administrator.

Educators said that if more flexibility under NCLB is not allowed as 2014 nears, "school districts will not want to have (special education) children in their district."

"I'm no fan of NCLB," Hoekstra said. "We will fight to make as many of these changes ... to make the law more responsive."

— Elizabeth Council
Grand Haven Tribune


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