Area educators, administrators want reform of No Child Left Behind Act

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cape Girardeau School Board members, teachers and administrators expressed disdain for the current form of the No Child Left Behind Act last week, proposing support of a resolution that would suspend further sanctions until the act is reauthorized.

The board ultimately did not approve the motion. But the pointed discussion highlights an increasing desire for reform among educators as more schools nationally struggle to meet standards.

The sweeping education law No Child Left Behind, enacted by Congress in 2001, requires students to meet proficiency standards in math and reading or face sanctions. Standards are raised every year.

"Making adequate yearly progress is becoming more and more unobtainable," said Central Junior High principal Roy Merideth. "We all feel that pressure and that scrutiny." But, he added, "sometimes that's a good thing."

While similar debates have raged in board rooms across the country, presidential candidates have provided few details about NCLB reform they'd support. With the economy taking center stage, reauthorization talks look like they will continue to be stalled.

Northwest Missouri congressman Sam Graves introduced HR 6239, the NCLB Recess Until Reauthorization Act, in June. Until reauthorization, no new schools would be identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring this school year.

Board member Steve Trautwein said the act would "stop the presses" and "give us a chance to provide some input on how we're going to improve this."

'Inherent flaws'

The Missouri School Boards Association, which supports Graves' legislation, has encouraged members to consider supporting it as well. Most Cape Girardeau board members said last week that the move would be largely symbolic.

The statewide organization has proposed wide reform of NCLB, including more funding for it and using an individual's progress to measure success, spokesman Brent Ghan said. The organization's website says it also supports the elimination of "negative, impossible sanctions and standards, such as school transfers and loss of funds that will not address the challenges faced by the public schools."

Most Cape Girardeau board members agreed that NCLB has "inherent flaws."

Member Kyle McDonald called for more local control, while Stacy Kinder worried about teaching to the test. Pat Fanger, assistant superintendent, said she was concerned about what would happen to students bused to better-performing schools if the law changes.

Accountability

Four board members, however, worried about the message being sent to the public. "If we support this resolution, the appearance in the community is throw out No Child Left Behind, which would mean throw out accountability," said Tony Smee. Laura Sparkman, Charles Bertrand and Paul Nenninger agreed.

Bertrand said the law has put an unprecedented focus on all students and provided a more accurate depiction of areas in need of improvement. He gave an example of a school in Texas that could no longer manipulate numbers to "say they have a 2 percent dropout rate when 50 percent are on the streets. ... It's pressure on principals, it's pressure on teachers, parents and students. But you have to expect all kids to learn, all of them."

Fanger said administrators hold teachers and students responsible regardless of NCLB.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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