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NCLB Outrages

Leaving No Child Behind

Look who gets ink from the Standardisto Washington Post. This is truly an outrage posing as journalistic even-handedness.

With House hearings on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act beginning today, The Post asked educators, lawmakers and others for their views of the legislation and what might improve it.

Do you think it's reasonable to expect your child to know how to read by the end of third grade? I do, and I can't think of a single reason any parent would feel otherwise.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, for the first time, families have a right to expect that their children will be performing at or above grade level -- by 2014. Again: that's grade-level work or better. Not nuclear physics -- just the basic, fundamental skills that it takes to do all other schoolwork.

Since this act became law, nearly 500,000 more students have learned basic math skills. More than 500,000 others are getting free tutoring that was never available before. And the parents of 50 million students have more information, more control and more choices when it comes to their children's education.

Can we do a better job of challenging kids with advanced math and science and more rigor? Can we do a better job of getting kids and schools extra help to improve? Can we make accountability, assessment and measurement systems more effective, reliable, appropriate and sophisticated?

Absolutely. But as we work to strengthen and renew NCLB, we must not make it so "flexible" that it loses its power entirely. Thanks to this law, we're shining a bright light on every child's achievement. We don't always like what we see. But instead of obscuring what the law has uncovered, we must focus on the hard work ahead.

Margaret Spellings

U.S. Secretary of Education

From the start, the National Education Association supported the stated goals of No Child Left Behind: ensuring high expectations for every child, closing achievement gaps and giving all students qualified teachers. We endorsed specific elements in the law, including targeting funds to the neediest schools and students and disaggregating test data by subgroup. But as time passed, it became clear that NCLB was falling short of its lofty goals, and the law's negative effects on students, educators and schools began to emerge.

The NEA's 3.2 million teachers, administrators and other educators fervently believe that every child has a right to attend a great public school. To that end, we must change the requirements for testing and accountability to include multiple measures of tracking student progress. Test results are valuable, but they should be used to help students who need help -- not punish those who are already struggling.

The best way to ensure that no child is left behind is to give each student individual attention. That can happen only when classes are a manageable size.

Finally, we must do everything possible to place a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by providing financial incentives to teachers in the most difficult schools and expanding professional development opportunities.

Reg Weaver


National Education Association

No federal education law has been more misunderstood than No Child Left Behind. But despite all the complaints, no federal law has accomplished more for the poor and minority children historically shortchanged by our education system.

While we continue to press for closing the achievement gap and preparing all students for the real-world challenges of college and career, the federal law must maintain a laser-like focus on ensuring that all students are proficient in reading and math. Congress should resist calls to add more measures to the current accountability system that would provide "extra credit" for schools failing to meet the needs of their students in these two fundamental subject areas.

The "adequate yearly progress" standard was designed to be easily understood by parents, educators and policymakers. The clarity of the accountability system shouldn't be muddied by variables that let schools off the hook for poor performance in reading and math, even for just one group of students. Instead, Congress should provide funding for the additional supports and resources that research has identified as critical to academic success -- strong, effective teachers empowered by rich curricula tied to high-quality assessments of student learning -- and target those resources to the schools that need the most help.

Kati Haycock

President, The Education Trust

No Child Left Behind is a great slogan -- but a flawed program. More and more parents are finding this out. NCLB has appropriately focused attention on the performance of all students, but it fails in two major areas.

First, NCLB fails to recognize that students for whom English is a second language must learn English before being held accountable for proficiency in English. The law must change to focus first on learning the language. Only when students have learned English should they be tested in reading, speaking and writing English fluently and for a variety of purposes.

The second shortcoming of this one-size-fits-all law is that it does nothing to challenge students for whom passing state tests is easy. The pass rates for Fairfax County students range from 80 to 90 percent, and the more rigorous "pass advanced" rates are often in the 50 percent range. But the No Child law forces us to focus on the lowest 10 to 20 percent of scores and particularly on the 5 percent of students who are "on the bubble" of passing. While we definitely must continue to work with those students, we need a new vision for education. We need to create aspirational standards, not just adequate standards.

Jack Dale

Superintendent, Fairfax County Schools

I'm a product of the public schools, and for the past five years, I've been responsible for turning around the nation's largest school district. We've approached reform from a simple perspective: the child in the classroom. If we truly value our kids, we need the next version of NCLB to adopt the same perspective. Here are three key steps Congress should take.

First, the current law allows states to dumb down proficiency levels and create illusions of progress. We need a uniform measuring stick.

Second, the law measures school performance based on the number of students meeting a minimum proficiency standard. But what about the rest? Are they improving? The law should be changed so that schools are evaluated on how all their students are progressing, as New York City and others have already begun doing.

Third, the federal government should substantially increase funding to school districts, but only if districts adopt two critical reforms: They should pay bonuses to the most effective teachers and principals, based on student improvement, and to those serving in needy schools. Every other profession rewards excellence; why not in education? Working with labor unions, districts can adopt appropriate safeguards to ensure that bonuses are distributed fairly.

And districts should be required to reform stifling tenure regulations. Tenure should be earned, not granted automatically, and it should not mean lifetime job security if teachers cease being competent. Every student deserves an effective teacher, and nothing is more important to raising student achievement.

Michael R. Bloomberg

Mayor of New York

No factor in a school matters more to the academic success of children than the quality of the teachers and principal. To close the achievement gap, we must close the teacher-quality gap. Too often, it's the least qualified and least experienced who teach poor and minority children.

First, we must require that states and school districts distribute the best teachers equitably across schools. In the past, the federal government has only paid lip service to equitable distribution.

More important, we need to support teachers to help them continuously grow in the profession and increase the supply of excellent teachers in all schools. Last week, Congress took a step in this direction by approving funding for scholarships for excellent undergraduate students who commit to teaching in high-need public schools.

We should also build career ladders that reward teachers for gaining new knowledge and for taking on leadership roles in their schools. We should assist principals through instruction in management and the use of data to help their schools succeed. And teachers and principals who excel deserve a raise. While respecting collective bargaining agreements, we should offer performance pay to hardworking and talented teachers based on fair, proven and objective criteria. When school districts collaborate with local teachers unions, performance pay systems work -- and children benefit.

If we don't treat teachers as valued partners in our public schools, we'll continue to face an unacceptable teacher shortage, and children will pay the price.

George Miller

The writer, a Democratic representative from California, is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

No Child Left Behind's greatest strength is that it has institutionalized high expectations for every child in America. To claim success, a school must prove that all of its children -- including its low-income, minority and special education students and those who speak English as a second language -- are achieving at high levels. This shift in expectations is a vital first step toward closing the achievement gap.

The law's greatest weakness is that it focuses too much on teacher qualifications and not enough on teacher effectiveness. Educators must ensure that every child in this nation has the opportunity to learn from an instructor who has proven skills, as verified by student achievement data. I cannot claim to be a good teacher simply because I have a master's in education, two licenses and eight years of experience. I can claim to be a good teacher only if the data demonstrate that my students have learned.

Jason Kamras

The writer, a member of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's transition team and a former teacher in the D.C. school system, was the 2005 national teacher of the year.

Justin is a special education student at another school district in my state. At the beginning of 10th grade, he wrote and read at a fifth-grade level and was doing seventh-grade math. He took our state assessment in the spring. While an average student completes the assessment in 3 1/2 hours, it took Justin 24 hours to finish. Understanding that he must pass the assessment to graduate, Justin studied every night for the following day's tests.

When asked how laws such as No Child Left Behind have changed his work, Justin's teacher said, "I definitely expect more of my students. My standards are way higher." Apparently, Justin's standards have risen as well. Upon completion of the assessment, Justin was voted his school's student of the year based on his work ethic, focus and commitment to excellence.

This is the crowning achievement of No Child Left Behind. As teachers, we are putting our practices under the microscope. We are expecting more from our students, and many are delivering.

Yet, unfortunately, when the results came back, Justin and his teachers learned that he had failed. He passed in reading but was one point short in writing and 10 points short in math. If Justin wants to graduate, he will have to take the test again next year.

I fear that because Justin has never been successful in school, he may be so discouraged by this setback that he will give up. It is possible that in an effort to expect more of Justin, we have taught him that hard work and amazing increases in achievement are just not enough. Because, despite his great gains, Justin still sees himself as he always has: a failure.

Andrea Peterson

The writer, an elementary music specialist in the Granite Falls, Wash., school district, is the 2007 national teacher of the year.

As the principal of a Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) public charter school in Oklahoma City, I think the greatest impact of No Child Left Behind has been to serve as a catalyst for innovation and excellence in public education. Before founding KIPP Reach College Prep in 2002, I was principal of a chronically low-performing public school here. I felt stifled in the traditional public school system. Regulations prevented me from extending the school day, week and year, and, often, from hiring the most talented teachers.

Seeing my frustration, the Oklahoma City schools' superintendent encouraged me to enter KIPP's leadership training program. As a KIPP leader, I was able to select quality teachers, design curriculum and extend the school day. Through hard work, we are proving that demography is not destiny for underserved students. Our student body is 97 percent African American, and 90 percent of our students are from low-income families. In 2006, 97 percent of our eighth-graders passed the state reading test and 100 percent passed mathematics. Statewide, only 56 percent of African American eighth-graders passed reading and 53 percent passed mathematics.

We are proving that when principals are given the freedom to innovate and the necessary resources, we can meet the high expectations set by NCLB.

Tracy McDaniel

The writer is a member of the KIPP national board of directors.

— multiple authors
Washington Post


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