Sunday, January 08, 2006

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: Local educators launch effort to show legislators challenges facing schools

From an article in the Northern Illinois, Times, January 7, 2006, by MELISSA GARZANELLI,

This article is about local action. It's about getting legislators into the schools to see what the effects of NCLB are. This is something that could and should be happening in small towns and big cities all over the country. (Emphasis is mine)

STREATOR -- At Centennial School in Streator on Friday, two fifth-grade students read a section of a sample test of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test that they will take later this year.

One student easily relays the information about the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, reading the text that will supply the answers to the upcoming questions. Later that morning, the other student struggles over the same text, painstakingly working to pronounce each word.

"He has made tremendous gains," Linda Brooks, a special education teacher at Centennial, said to state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who visited the school Friday. " ... But what I've seen doesn't count on the ISAT. He has had problems in his life, but he never ceases to amaze me."

The session with Mautino was part of an effort by local schools who are part of VOICE -- a regional education lobbying group made up of more than 40 school districts -- to educate legislators about the challenges facing schools.

"The VOICE group, of which I am a board member, said we have got to get legislators into our schools so they can see and hear the human interest stories," said Ed Allen, superintendent of the Streator Elementary School District. " ... Then they can go back to the legislative session and tell these stories."


"It seems the majority of laws passed are geared toward preK-12 education. It would be foolish not to be proactive and build relationships with our legislators," said Mark Cross, chairman of VOICE and superintendent at Peru Elementary School District. " ... There are bills that are passed that sound good but are not good for children or education. We want to educate our legislators about the impact to our districts and help them understand better."


"In the reading portion of the ISAT, there are no accommodations (for special needs students)," said Cathy Centoni, a fifth-grade teacher. "No matter what accommodations students have in their IEPs (Individual Education Plan), in reading, they are not allowed to have those accommodations. If they normally have to have the test read to them, they are not allowed that on test day."

"I didn't realize that," replied Mautino.


District coordinator Chris Dougherty and district social worker Cindy Komater relayed stories of some low-income students and how that impacts education, including students coming to school hungry, without homework completed and missing basic school supplies.


Dougherty said that students entering kindergarten should have had 1,000 books read to them during their first five years, but some from low-income families don't have books in their home, have no magazine or newspaper subscriptions and have parents who are not readers.

"Because they've not had (exposure to reading) there is that achievement gap," she said.

Educators said being able to offer after school programs and summer "bridge" classes to provide an opportunity for extra help would benefit these students, but financially the district cannot afford it.

Special needs programs are also quite costly, said Allen.


"We cannot turn these kids away -- and we should not," said Allen.


"In the old days, you might have a student who was a low achiever but he had a strong family life," said Allen. "Now there are all sorts of variables."

"I wish people that are older could see how school is now," said Centoni. "Even in my nine years teaching, I've seen change."

What is VOICE?

VOICE is an education lobbying group made up of more than 40 school districts in La Salle, Bureau and other surrounding counties. The group serves 25,000 students.

As part of a recent effort to increase communication between legislators and school districts, VOICE is encouraging superintendents to invite their local lawmakers into classrooms. State Rep. Frank Mautino's visit to Centennial School in Streator was the first such effort.

To see if your school is involved for more information, visit the Web site at

This is the kind of thing that needs to happen over and over again if we are ever going to change NCLB and reverse this mad dash to destroying and then privatizing public education.

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