Wednesday, December 13, 2006

No Child Left Behind failing our children

From the Contra Costa Times (California) comes this wonderfil, right-on letter:

It's really ridiculous the way our educational system has become under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Testing, testing, testing and still we have the problem of increasing high school dropouts, fewer highly qualified/veteran teachers, more failing schools and fewer people entering a beat-down profession.

It's time for the politicians to stop playing with our educational system and begin listening to the people who have been working directly with the students and schools' staffs. It's time for President Bush and the politicians to show all of America that our schools are just as important as the war in Iraq.

Invest in the building of highly supplied and efficiently run schools. Invest in educational settings that are technologically current and aesthetically pleasing. Value the teachers by paying them living wages and sound benefits. Encourage youths by having community support centers that have homework help, as well as social and philanthropic activities for our young people.

And, by all means, let's ensure everyone has the same opportunities, whether or not they have passed some God-forsaken test.

Cheryl Powell


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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Democrats outline education agenda priorities

This from CNN today. What caught my eye...

...Besides money, a point of contention between some of the law's critics and its supporters is an unprecedented requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2013-14, a goal critics say is unrealistic. Spellings says the date should not be moved...

Moved! Moved! How can this be taken seriously! 100% is unattainable! How can they not understand that that we need a new paradigm for measuring success with kids?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Leave this law behind - Federal education mandates should be more flexible

From the Anchorage Daily News comes a comment that makes sense to me, except I would just let it lapse.

Published: November 25, 2006

There's a reason the federal No Child Left Behind Act is sometimes called the "No Public School Left" Act. The law takes an admirable aspiration -- ensuring all students learn to a basic level of competency that enables them to function in society -- and turns it into an inflexible demand, with harsh consequences for the schools that most need extra help to measure up.

Schools must get a passing grade in each of 33 categories. Low-income schools that don't pass all 33 categories for two or more years face financial and other sanctions. Other schools that fail to measure up are stuck with a stigma that can scare some families into choosing private schools.

The federal law ignores the reality that some students are easier to educate than others. Some schools serve students who show up for class ready to learn, coming from stable households that value and support their children's education. Other schools serve communities afflicted by poverty, crime or other social upheaval, such as mass immigration.

Schools are held accountable for the performance of students who may not even show up enough -- or stick around long enough -- to benefit from the education the school offers. A school may do a great job helping disadvantaged students catch up, but as long as student scores still fall short, the school's good work doesn't count in the federal evaluation.

Alaska is among the states that have tried to gain some flexibility in evaluating schools. State education leaders want the rating based not just on the absolute level of student test scores, but also on the growth in student performance over time.

For the first few years of No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration steadfastly rejected requests for that kind of flexibility. Lately, a few states have won federal OK for considering growth in student scores, but Alaska's bid was recently rejected.

Alaska faces an even bigger challenge meeting another mandate in the federal education law. All teachers are supposed to be "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach.

Again, that's an admirable aspiration.

But Alaska has scores of tiny rural schools, accessible only by air or boat, with only a handful of teachers. Expecting each of those teachers to be "highly qualified" in multiple subjects is flatly unrealistic. Remote Alaska districts have enough trouble as it is recruiting teachers. Ironclad enforcement of this federal mandate will make it even harder to recruit teachers in the Bush.

No Child Left Behind will expire unless renewed by the new Congress that starts in January. With Democrats in control, there's new hope that an updated version of the law can include more realistic mandates.

"Next year, there's really an opportunity to make changes to No Child Left Behind," says Kevin Sweeney, press aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. "The (Bush) administration was always dead set against changes." Mr. Sweeney identified two key areas for improving the law: the "growth" approach to evaluating students and the "highly qualified" teacher requirements.

He's right on both counts.

No Child Left Behind turns admirable aspirations into punitive mandates. With a modest amount of flexibility, a revised federal law can apply enough pressure to spur improvement without setting standards that are impossible to achieve.

BOTTOM LINE: Alaska needs Congress to lighten up a bit on the No Child Left Behind Act.