No Child Left Behind: the devil is in the details
Congressman’s forums find little support for controversial law
Parents and teachers came out in full force Wednesday for Rep. Dennis Moore's No Child Left Behind forum at the Shawnee Civic Centre. While most in attendance said they agreed with the purpose behind the law, as Moore said, the devil is in the details.
Many educators said they are worried because the act can take funding from public schools if all students are not proficient in reading and math by the year 2014. Parents' concerns revolved around students receiving the best possible education despite "teaching to the test."
Some districts are already affected by the law because of Adequate Yearly Progress standards. These standards call for each school to improve on standardized tests every year. If a school does not make the standard for several years, it can lose federal funding.
Moore, D-Kan., is traveling throughout the Congressional district to hear concerns about the program before the law comes to the House for reauthorization this summer. The Lenexa Democrat did vote for the law in 2002, but said since then it has been under funded by nearly $55 million.
"This bill promised increased federal funding and we ought to be keeping that promise," Moore said. "Really, I would rather not have Congress involved at all. It should be first and foremost at the local level."
Although Moore said he wanted increased achievement and equal opportunity for all students, he did co-sponsor a bill in Congress that would allow districts to defer the accountability requirements until No Child Left Behind was fully funded.
"There are people who support the law, but a majority would like to see changes," Moore said. "All of the superintendents I talked to have concerns."
As part of his research on the program, Moore's office conducted a survey of teachers and parents in the district. According to the survey, 40 percent of teachers who responded felt the act should be repealed altogether. Less than 1 percent felt it needed no changes.
Out of 674 parents in the Shawnee Mission School District who responded to the survey, 87 percent said they favored testing individual students over time rather than comparing by grade level. None responded that No Child Left Behind is great without changes.
The panelist most in favor of the test was Kansas State Board of Education representative Sue Gamble, who said the country cannot afford to throw the law away.
"[In Kansas] we have cut reading non-proficiency in half," Gamble said. "We can make 100 percent proficiency. It's just frustrating because of the burden to get there."
One of the panelists for the forum was Pam Ritzman, a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District. She said the program made teaching harder because administration was concerned with tests.
"The state of Kansas supports teaching to the test," Ritzman said. "Administration asked us to teach less science and social studies because last year we didn't make AYP."
Ritzman said because the school did not meet AYP, high-risk students were taken out of the classroom to meet with tutors who are not as qualified.
"I want those students in my classroom," she said.
De Soto Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said she believed in accountability but thought the program needed more flexibility.
"Children don't learn lock-step," Zoellner said. "They don't learn by doing a paper and pencil test."
Zoellner said a big program facing No Child Left Behind was combining schools and politics, which had potential ramifications.
"I believe there are people who want to see public education fail," Zoellner said. "The profession of teaching is no longer revered like it should be."
Kansas Teacher of the Year Josh Anderson, an English teacher at Olathe Northwest High School, said he supported the law because for the first time in history, the United States was looking at all students. But he said the law needed to change in order to compete in a 21st century economy.
"We are producing a nation of empty children who can take a test," Anderson said. "Our students need to be innovators, creators and that's the last thing that's happening in public schools."
Moore agreed that in a global economy, the United States was in competition with countries like India and China in areas like science and math. He said he would bring the information from these forums back to Washington to prepare for changes to the law.
"Two of the concerns I heard a lot are English Language Learner kids and special education kids are included in these tests," Moore said. "That's a lot of stress on our schools."
The Shawnee forum was the second of four he conducted throughout his district. Others were held in Lawrence, Overland Park and Kansas City, Kan.