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NCLB Outrages

Schools Working to Ensure Teachers' Aides Not Left Behind
Ohanian Comment: I've done research on this atrocity. See:

The NCLB Law, $8-an-Hour Paraprofessionals, & Explaining the Long-Range Theory of Probability



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For 19 years, Sylvia Lozano has worked at Oak Grove Elementary. Her job assisting in a special education classroom for prekindergarten students ranges from helping developmentally delayed 3- and 4-year-olds recognize letters and count to 10 to calming fears and changing diapers.

She has more classroom experience than many of the teachers at the school, yet makes far less money. Teacher Noreen Pike calls Lozano, and her fellow teachers' assistants, "invaluable."

But despite her hard work, expertise and sacrifice, Lozano and every other teachers' assistant in the nation is fighting to keep her job.

"I've been doing this for 19 years and now they say I need a degree," Lozano said, phrasing the words more like a question than a statement. "Doesn't 19 years in the classroom count for anything?"

Today marks the three-year anniversary of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education reform law. It also marks the one-year countdown to a deadline for teachers' assistants to be "highly qualified" or lose their jobs.

The requirement applies only to schools that receive Title I money federal funds set aside for schools that serve low-income neighborhoods.

Under the law, teachers' assistants have until Jan. 8, 2006, to earn an associate's degree, complete two years of college or pass a test that covers subjects such as English, reading and math on a post-secondary level.

Oak Grove special education teacher Susan Eichel said the requirement is causing undo stress. Until now, a teaching assistant job in most school districts across the country required no more than a high school diploma and a successful background check.

"I can't do my job without these ladies," Eichel said. "This is on-the-job training, and to tell people who've been doing this for years and years that they're not qualified is insulting."

Local school districts have been working for the past two years to ensure no assistants lose their jobs. In North East, where Oak Grove is located, the school district offers tutoring sessions to prepare employees to meet the requirement.

Personnel director Midge Balanciere said of 223 affected teachers' assistants, 83 still need to pass the test or earn college credit. For those who don't meet the requirement by the deadline, Balanciere will try to find them jobs elsewhere in the district.

"My goal is to come out of this where nobody loses a job," she said.

Balanciere said most assistants were fearful when they first learned of the requirement, but the law has had an unintended positive effect.

"A lot of folks looked at this as a nuisance, but it's been a blessing for many. Many have gone back to college and are continuing their education. We hope to get some certified teachers out of this," Balanciere said.

"They've realized what they can accomplish and they feel so good about themselves," she said. "It's good for the children and it's had a great effect on the morale of these assistants."

Nancy Brann, who is handling the issue in Northside School District, has seen a similar effect.

"I've had some who have decided to retire or resign, but for others it's given them the prompting they need to do something they've always wanted to do," she said. "This law has inspired them to go on to college and accomplish their goals."

Of Northside's 294 assistants affected by the law, fewer than 40 still need to meet the requirement. At least 14 of those have said they'll resign.

Tracy Klaja, an assistant for seven years at Oak Grove, was the first in North East to take and pass the test and become "highly qualified." Now she's taking college classes and is considering pursuing a bachelor's degree in education.

Still, she said the No Child Left Behind requirement is unfair, especially to people who make only $8 to $10 an hour.

"It was scary. I was so stressed out because I love my job and didn't want to lose it," Klaja said.

"Some things look good on paper, but they're just not practical," she said. "I work with 3- and 4-year-olds. I don't need to know algebra to do that. They need hugs. They need someone to tell them they're doing a good job. I can do that. I didn't need to take a test to prove it."


— Jenny LaCoste-Caputo
San Jose Express-News


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