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NCLB Outrages

Lieberman: More education funding needed


Money isn't going to make 100% of students proficient.

Why throw more money onto bad legislation?

Linda Conner Lambeck

BRIDGEPORT ΓΆ€” For 100 percent of the nation's students to be proficient in reading and math as required by the No Child Left Behind law, the federal government has to cough up 100 percent of the funds it promised when it enacted the standards.

That's the message U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman took with him Friday from a discussion with state and local education officials at the Six-to-Six Interdistrict Magnet School.

With Congress expected to work on reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation in June, Lieberman held what he said was the second in a series of discussions around the state on where the law is effective and what needs fixing.

Among the 35 people at the discussion was state Teacher of the Year Christopher Poulos of Joel Barlow High School in Redding.

He offered a list of 10 suggestions ΓΆ€” developed by the nation's 50 Teachers of the Year ΓΆ€” on how to improve the six-year-old law. The list starts with a call for full funding of education programs that are federally mandated.

Assessments tied to the law, he added, also have to start measuring student achievement by looking at how much students improve over time, rather than pitting the scores of one class against the one that came before.

Bob David, the vice chairman of the Board of Education in Stratford, told Lieberman the law makes unrealistic demands while providing few resources.

Enacted in 2001, the law is designed to boost achievement of all students by 2014. Schools where students aren't reaching proficiency in sufficient numbers face sanctions.

The sanctions are imposed even if one subgroup of students ΓΆ€” including the low-income, minorities and those learning English or receiving special education ΓΆ€” are not making sufficient progress.

David said Stratford recently succeeded in helping one subgroup improve only to have another slip, which meant their school remained on the list of schools in need of improvement.

"We have a finite amount of resources the mill rates going up. What do we do?" David asked Lieberman.

The senator told David towns and cities shouldn't have to raise taxes to comply with the law.

"I'd like to say we're going to fund it totally. I don't want to raise your expectations beyond reality, but I do think there is going to be a significant, multibillion dollar increase in funding for NCLB," he told the group.

That would mean a significant increase in funding above the president's budget, which Lieberman said underfunds federal school programs by $11 billion.

Despite its flaws, Lieberman said he continues to believe in the goals of No Child Left Behind.

Connecticut should, too, he said, since the achievement gap between the state's low- and high-income students is wider than any other state.

State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said he hopes the new version of No Child Left Behind eases some of the law's rigidity. He also wants achievement to measure individual student improvement rather than comparing classes.

Claire Howard, representing Connecticut Appleseed, a Wilton-based advocacy group, told Lieberman the law should do more to give parents access to tutors and school choice beyond district boundaries.

Nancy Prescott, executive director of the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, asked Lieberman not to soften the law as it relates to students who receive special education. "The law has set the bar higher than it's ever been. It concerns me that we could start to see that erode," she said.

Melissa Johnson, president-elect of the state PTA, disagreed. The mother of two autistic sons, Johnson said her children are unable to learn in the same way that others do and should not be pressured to take a test that measures standards they can't reach.

After getting to a point where special education students are integrated in his city's schools, Bristol Supt. of Schools Michael Wasta said the law could cause resentment against those students, because if they fail, the whole school is judged as failing under the law.

"I don't like to exclude students from NCLB but we need more sophisticated measures," he said.

— Linda Conner Lambeck
Connecticut Post Online


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