NCLB Official Seeks to Quell 'Rebellion' At Forum
Ohanian Note: This has to be the quote of the month:
"I think it is the crappiest piece of legislation the federal government has ever enacted," said Charles Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.
Attempting to quell what one critic called "a rebellion of moderate Republican soccer moms," the overseer of the federal No Child Left Behind law fielded questions at a Tuesday night forum from many of those suburban parents and educators.
Any fermenting rebellion was polite, though many cheered questions critical of the initiative. Parents, students and educators peppered the No. 2 man at the U.S. Department of Education with tough questions about how the controversial law will affect the way students learn. The Minnesota Senate recently joined a growing list of legislatures critical of the law. Senators threatened to pull Minnesota out if there aren't changes, risking millions in federal funding.
The criticism isn't surprising, said Eugene Hickok, the acting deputy Education Department secretary.
"It's human nature," he said before the forum, held at the Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville. "If you don't live with this issue … I can see how difficult it is to come to grips with it."
Every state and district's educators believe they're doing great things and just want to be left alone, he said. But achievement gaps and a lack of accountability mar many, Hickok said.
The law isn't perfect, said Burnsville school board member Ron Hill, but he believes it will get some districts to look at areas they haven't had to consider.
Critics see the law a bit differently.
"I think it is the crappiest piece of legislation the federal government has ever enacted," said Charles Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. Telling educators and parents their schools are doing a bad job, especially when those people can see that most students are doing well, is creating "a rebellion of moderate Republican soccer moms."
Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, for instance, led the charge against the law in the Senate, though her bill also garnered strong Democratic-Farmer-Labor support.
A recent legislative auditor's report found 80 to 100 percent of Minnesota schools won't meet the law's requirements in a decade. Many could be at risk of private or state takeovers by that time.
That worries Sky Oaks Elementary teacher Paul Berge, who also heads the Burnsville teachers' union.
"It seems that eventually every school will be failing," he said. "And that's a concern."
Hickok said schools that fail to progress toward having 100 percent of students pass standardized tests should not be called failing and should not be sanctioned
Funding for the bill's mandates garnered the strongest criticism at the forum, however.
"Where is the money? Where is it?" Kyte asked to audience applause. "We would like to see at least some of it go to public schools."
Federal education funding had increased every year under the Bush administration, said U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who lives in the nearby Lakeville school district.
But few Minnesota districts have seen any increases, said Kyte, who presented detailed cuts in federal funding from numerous metro area districts, including Lakeville.
Hickok later acknowledged that many of those increases may never reach Minnesota. Recently, most metro districts faced cuts in federal funds that go to the poorest students. New federal funding formulas send the money to those districts across the country with the highest concentrations of poverty.
Tammy J. Oseid
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES