"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hope, and Call

From the NEA website:

Ten United States senators have declared their support for significantly overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act's testing mandates and other changes as Congress prepares to tackle reauthorization of the massive federal education law.

The concerns are expressed in a letter dated Feb. 15, 2007 by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Work in the Senate on NCLB/ESEA reauthorization will start in this committee.

Others signing on to Sen. Feingold's letter so far include Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

In the letter, the lawmakers state:

"We have concluded that the testing mandates of No Child Left Behind in their current form are unsustainable and must be overhauled significantly during the reauthorization process beginning this year."

"While we all agree that states and districts should be held accountable for academic outcomes and continue working toward closing the achievement gap among their students, federal education law should not take the form of a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach."

The senators articulate a wide range of concerns, including the effects of federal funding that is "well below the agreed upon authorization levels," that indicate a thorough understanding of the problems NCLB poses for administrators, teachers, and students as it has been implemented to date.

They wrote, "Time and again, we have heard from teachers and administrators who are frustrated by the lack of flexibility in the Department of Education's implementation of the law. Additionally, national reports have also called into question the effectiveness of NCLB's statutory provisions and the effects of these provisions on students and teachers."

Feingold and the other senators who signed the letter are calling on the Senate HELP Committee to focus its hearings on the following:

Adequate Funding and Financial Burdens Facing School Districts

  • the effect that federal funding well below the agreed upon authorization levels for crucial programs such as Title I and special education is having on schools' ability to meet NCLB and state standards;
  • the financial cost to states and school districts for the NCLB data collection and reporting requirements, and its effect on the overall education of our children as states and districts continue to face tight budgets;

Sensible Accountability Models

  • the inability of schools and districts to receive credit for student growth under the current AYP provisions of NCLB;
  • the concern and likelihood that nearly all public schools may not be able to meet the goal of 100percent proficient scores on reading and math tests by the 2013-2014 school year, even if those schools show a steady increase in student achievement each year;
  • the concern with the Department of Education's process for approving and denying states' amendments to their accountability plans and whether more transparency in the Department's process is needed;

Differences in School Districts Size and Composition

  • the unique circumstances of rural and smaller school districts, as well as large urban districts, and in particular, the special challenges that the supplementary services and public school transfer requirements and NCLB accountability structure pose for these districts;

Effect on Teachers Students and Curriculum

  • the long-term effects that meeting the one-size-fits-all adequate yearly progress provisions will have on students, schools, and school districts;
  • the toll that preparation for the mandatory reading and math tests for students in grades 3-8, including time spent teaching to the tests, is having on, and will have on, the ability of teachers to spend time on innovative and exciting approaches to instruction and assessment; instruction time available for such subjects as social studies, art, and music; the strength of state academic standards; and the morale of students and educators;
  • the degree to which requirements of NCLB are pressuring schools and teachers to narrow curriculums to the subject and content areas that appear on standardized tests;
  • the ongoing efforts to align the NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and particularly how we can ensure that meeting the NCLB's accountability goals is not in conflict with the education goals in a student's Individualized Education Plan;
  • the unique challenges that the accountability provisions pose for special education students and students with limited English proficiency, including efforts to ensure that these students are tested in a manner that is tailored to their individual needs;
  • the ongoing problems with the Reading First program as documented in the recent Inspector General report;
  • the need for additional federal funding for professional development and for the costs of providing additional training for paraprofessionals, as well as the need for increased funding for teacher and principal recruitment and retention in light of the expected teacher and administrator shortage, on the ability of states and school districts to comply with the NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals;

Supportive Interventions for Struggling Schools

  • the federal sanctions structure included in the law, which focuses more on taking away from schools than on targeting resources to what those schools need to succeed; and
  • the implementation of the supplemental services provisions, including implications for federal civil rights law.

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