Nevada Educators Urged to Challenge ‘No Child’ Law
Ohanian Comment: It is good news that NEA seems to be widening its NCLB protest beyond the money issue.
The national teacher’s union president encouraged Nevada’s educators Saturday to challenge the federal No Child Left Behind law, which he said doesn’t live up to the promise of its name and lacks adequate funding.
“Bureaucracy, paperwork and testing don’t address student achievement,” said Reg Weaver, National Education Association president, who addressed members of the Nevada State Education Association at the Peppermill Hotel-Casino.
Weaver said not all children learn at the same level and that the law is a “one size fits all approach,” noting many of its supporters are politicians and other people who never have been teachers and “wouldn’t last a minute” in classrooms, cafeterias or on school buses.
Even state lawmakers are starting to voice opposition, including the Republican-controlled Virginia and Utah legislatures, for No Child Left Behind being an underfunded mandate, Weaver said.
Pat Christen, a special education teacher at Pine Middle School in Reno, said her students respond to different styles of learning and that classifying students into slots on a matrix won’t work.
“They (politicians) didn’t look at the education system as a whole but took what people complain about and legislated it to everyone,” Christen said. “There is so much good about public education and they’re trying to make it look bad.”
Under the law, children at schools where the majority of students receive free or reduced lunches can be moved to another campus if adequate progress is not achieved for two consecutive years.
Since a school’s adequate progress will be based on an average and eight subgroups, school choice could be more widespread in a few years. Even if the school averages are satisfactory, if one subgroup doesn’t succeed, the whole school gets the label. Blacks, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, American Indians and Caucasians make up the ethnic groups. Schools also must report separate scores of non-native English speakers, learning-disabled students and those eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Consequences start to pile up during years three through five.
o A third year of not meeting progress gives children an opportunity to get supplemental services, such as after-school tutoring or extra help from an outside provider.
o A fourth year requires the district to take “corrective action.” That could mean one or more of the following: replacing school staff, starting a new curriculum, extending the school day, more closely monitoring management of the school or redirecting control of the campus to the district or an outside provider.
o After a fifth year, the district must restructure the school by either making it a charter school, replacing school staff or turn over operations to the state.
Continually moving students to different schools and negative labeling of public schools -- which serve students regardless of ethnicity, income and IQ -- appear to be an excuse for the Bush administration to push vouchers, said Weaver, who teaches junior high school science and health in Chicago.
“Our profession is being attacked from the right wing,” Weaver said. “We have always made sure nobody was left behind.”
Jack Finn, spokesman for U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said the No Child Left Behind law might need adjustments. Ensign, a veterinarian, would consider amendments if any were broached, Finn said after the meeting.
However, Finn disputed most of Weaver’s statements and said much of the uproar is being used as a political vendetta because it’s an election year.
“Some are afraid of a new era of accountability,” Finn said. “No Child Left Behind is one of the greatest tools ever. Accountability is a major factor sadly lacking. As to the criticism that it’s a tool for vouchers is borderline hysteria.”
Weaver said educators teach students that it’s OK to disagree or have different viewpoints in a democratic society. But, he said, once someone questions the Bush administration, they’re often criticized.
He also reminded teachers about the closeness of the 2000 presidential election and encouraged them to vote for candidates who support public schools.
“The last few years have been like a bad movie,” Weaver said. “I believe a rerun will be worse.”
NSEA President Terry Hickman encouraged the 300 people who attended the meeting to circulate a petition by the state’s teachers that would require per-pupil funding at the national average or higher by 2012.
Nevada ranks 45th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending at $6,481, which is $1,686 below the national average of $8,167, according to NSEA literature. The union needs 51,000 signatures from at least 13 counties by June 15 for the measure to go on the ballot this fall and in 2006.
“Our petition is not about taxes, it’s about priorities,” Hickman said.
There is a competing initiative backed by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons that seeks to make education funding the first priority of the Nevada Legislature but does not prescribe spending levels.
NSEA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said she was unsure how many signatures were collected to date but that the union is on track to reach its goal.
Washoe County has two schools on the needing improvement list, according to No Child Left Behind: Desert Heights Elementary and Anderson Elementary.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES