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NCLB Outrages

Rod Paige Tells Teachers at a Portland Conference that Improvements Are Coming with No Child Left Behind

Ohanian Comment: I'm glad teachers protested. I'm sorry they cited lack of funding as the problem with NCLB. Why would we want the Feds to throw good money after bad?

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said Tuesday that the No Child Left Behind law is beginning to show results. He dismissed critics who contend it should be abandoned or radically changed.

"Anytime you have big changes, you are going to have complaints," Paige said during a Portland visit. "A lot of good things are going on."

Paige, a Bush appointee, dropped in on a U.S. Department of Education workshop on effective teaching practices. Speaking to about 200 teachers from around the nation, he praised their work and said that to make them more effective, the department will spend about $5 billion next year to improve teacher quality.

Outside the Portland Marriott Downtown meeting, however, a noisy group of Oregon teachers waved picket signs and complained No Child Left Behind is underfunded and too rigid. The Oregon Education Association, the state teachers union, issued a statement calling the conference a "thinly veiled political tool to promote President Bush" during an election year.

Paige denied he was making a political appearance and said it was a coincidence that Treasury Secretary John Snow was in Portland the same day.

The No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2001, requires students to be tested annually in reading and math, and schools to boost academic performance so that all students meet state benchmarks by 2014. Schools must demonstrate annual progress toward that goal for all groups of students, including minority, disabled and limited-English students.

Paige dismisses complaints

Paige, in a news conference later, said some educators are complaining about the law because, for the first time, there are serious consequences for schools and districts where performance doesn't improve.

"We need to stay the course and not water down the law," Paige said.

He told the teachers that the law appears to be making a difference. Reading test scores among fourth-graders had been flat for years despite increasing amounts of federal support to schools. But in the past two years, Paige said, there has been modest improvement.

"I see the corner being turned somewhat in student achievement," Paige said. "The trend is up. More important, we see even more dramatic increases in the big urban areas."

The two-day workshop brought teachers from 37 states to hear presentations from other teachers who have improved student performance, sometimes in difficult circumstances. It is the second of seven teacher-to-teacher workshops the department is sponsoring. The federal Education Department pays conference fees and lodging for participants.

Some questions about law

Cheryl Wester, a special education teacher from Crescent City, Calif., said she got valuable tips on teaching reading and writing to her students.

"It's been very informative, very inspiring," she said.

But she questioned whether all students could achieve her state's academic standards in 10 years, as required by the act.

Jan Pearce, a Lake Oswego elementary schoolteacher who was among protesters outside the hotel, said the No Child Left Behind law is good in theory but bad in practice. Why should schools in her district be labeled as not making adequate yearly progress when Lake Oswego has some of the highest college-entrance exam scores in the state, she asked.

"I think," she said, "this law has the potential to dismantle public education."

Steven Carter: 503-221-8521; stevencarter@news.oregonian.com

— Steven Carter
The Oregonian


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