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NCLB Outrages

No Child Act under fire from teachers: federal law takes beating at Napa Valley Unified School District Board Meeting

In their face with books. Great!

By Cristina de León-Menjivar

Gripping their favorite novels, a group of about 30 high school English teachers and students marched into the Napa Valley Unified School District board room Thursday to offer harsh lessons about the No Child Left Behind Act.

Specifically, the teachers criticized a mandate that English teachers use a literary anthology in place of novels.

Students also joined the parade of speakers. Lauren Robinson, a Napa High senior, described as the anthologies as âcanned, pre-packaged literature that isnât literature anymore.â

Under No Child, schools that receive federal funds must meet specific academic performance standards or face âprogram improvementâ â sanctions that could require schools to alter their curriculum or even change administrative teams.

For two years in a row, the Napa school district has reached many performance goals, but missed targets for both English learners and students in special education. Because of this, the district has begun to add classes, tutoring and other âinterventionsâ for students in reading and math.

Some students and teachers argue the requirements can be detrimental. Norma Magdaleno, 14, is already taking two language arts classes. Under the mandate, next year she could be taking three. These classes would take the place of other requirements such as history and science, and practically eliminate the possibility of taking any electives.

To stay on track, Magdaleno signed up for summer school. But because priority is given to juniors and seniors, sheâs not sure if sheâs going to get in.

â(Three English classes) is going to be more difficult,â the freshman said in Spanish. âIt might take away the opportunity to graduate.â

Her English language development teacher, Martha Calderon, said she worries for many of her students.

âWhere and when are they going to complete the other requirements to graduate?â she said. âPounding them with language arts everyday? Is that the right choice? They need their electives.â

No criticism left behind

Genevieve DiGiulio used to teach parenting at Napa High. Now, she teaches âRead 180,â an intervention class that is geared to get students struggling in English back on track.

DiGiulio said that before No Child entered her world, teaching was âfunâ and something that made her âfeel free.â

âEveryone appreciated the freedom to choose how they could teach, utilizing the standards,â she said. âIt felt like we were respected as professionals.â

At the board meeting, many teachers passionately expressed their frustration with the act.

âIâm going to have to stop teaching and become a factory worker,â Rich Harris, an English teacher, said referring to the standardization of the curriculum.

Some teachers even suggested the district try to live without federal funding in order to ignore the mandates.

Elena Toscano, district assistant superintendent of instruction, said federal funds make up $8.5 million of the districtâs $118 million annual budget. This pays for about 62 jobs in the district, Toscano said.

For board members, walking away from federal funds didnât seem like a reasonable option.

âI struggle with the thought of losing (federal funds). I think the removal of that will affect kids in a negative fashion,â said district board member Robb Felder.

But administrators share some of the concerns about the law.

In October 2006, the district endorsed a resolution for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act to make it less onerous to schools, and Thursday evening the board was prepared to reissue that resolution.

Some teachers, however, were upset with the board because they believe the resolution is a âweak tea approach.â

Board member Tom Kensok suggested the district look into joining other California districts that have decided to take legal action against No Child. Board member Alan Murray also suggested the board look at what is directly mandated by No Child and what is suggested, and see if they can give teachers more flexibility in their classrooms.

For one elementary school teacher, though, itâs almost too late.

âThe textbook really does rule my life. ... Now Iâm losing my enthusiasm, we have every moment account for, (No Child) is not improving education,â she said.

After about two hours of discussion, the board decided to revise the resolution against No Child and to search for flexibility within the law.

â(No Child) is a double-edged sword. While there are many onerous and difficult and problematic elements, it is also promoting a conversation of teaching and learning and about closing the achievement gap,â Superintendent John Glaser said.

Board President Jose Hurtado said whatâs important is finding a way to serve all students without compromising the quality of education.

âOur task right now is to fight the effects and sanctions of NCLB, we need to create a philosophy within the NVUSD that will somehow allow us to provide for our students,â he said.

— Cristina de León-Menjivar
Napa Valley Register


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