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NCLB Outrages

Upheaval for Failing Schools

Ohanian Comment: I'd like the name of one school where this has worked.

The decision to make every teacher, administrator and janitor at DeKalb County's McNair Middle School reapply for their jobs may seem drastic.

But it could be just the beginning.

Merlon B. Jones was introduced Friday as new principal at DeKalb's McNair Middle School. All McNair employees must reapply for their jobs after students failed to meet state testing goals for the fourth year in a row. At least 60 metro Atlanta schools face similar circumstances.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act has reserved such radical action for schools like McNair that have repeatedly failed to meet testing goals.

At least 60 metro Atlanta schools may be led to make such dramatic changes if they don't make the mark this year. Among the options is "reconstitution" essentially having the entire staff reapply for their jobs and replacing the administration.

"This is the kind of thing we may be seeing in the future if schools cannot turn themselves around," said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. "I think if that's going to work downstream, it's going to have to be done in a very fair, impartial and objective way."

Last week staffers at McNair Middle School were informed that their principal, Jonathan Smith, was stepping down and that everyone would need to reapply for their jobs. The move surprised teachers, some of whom felt they were being unfairly blamed for the school's problems.

"This is not something that's been planned for weeks in advance," said David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators.

McNair Middle School in south DeKalb has been beset with problems that dog many schools that serve mostly poorer students. Those problems include students who move in or out of the school district during the year, children whose family problems follow them into the classroom, and the difficulty of attracting and keeping good teachers.

The school has failed to meet the state's testing goals for four years in a row, which means it must take "corrective action" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sterling Payne, a spokesman for the DeKalb County school system, said the federal act "played a role" in the move.

Scores from state exams given this spring have not been released yet, so it's not known whether McNair missed the mark for a fifth straight year.

Some parents applauded the changes. Alicia Maxwell said she became so fed up with teachers at McNair that she transferred her 12-year-old daughter, Diamond, to another school. In one instance, she said, teachers were unresponsive when she asked for assignments her daughter missed while on a three-day suspension.

"They need to get teachers who care," she said.

Helen Davis, whose 13-year-old grandson, Michael, attends McNair, said she was confused by the latest action.

"There are some good teachers here," she said. "I don't know about all this."

Merlon B. Jones was introduced as McNair's new principal Friday, the last day of classes. Over the next few weeks, he said, he intends to get to know the staff and review a school system report on conditions at the school.

"It'll take a while," Jones said. "I support my staff and teachers, community involvement and student achievement."

No Child Left Behind has drawn considerable criticism because so much of a school's future is based on the results of yearly curriculum exams. Diane Rentner, deputy director for the Center on Education Policy, a national public education advocacy group based in Washington, said she has heard of schools around the country reconstituting staff and expects to see that occur more often as the law takes full effect over the next few years.

"It certainly does take away the excuses," Rentner said. "If you go through all that and you have the good teachers, and the kids still aren't doing well, it makes you think that maybe it's not the school." But reconstitution hasn't happened at enough schools yet to determine whether it is effective, she said.

"I guess that Congress and the White House thought it would," she said.

— Dana Tofig & Mark Bizler
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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