Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Paige's Slip of Tongue Leaves Bad Taste

When U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization" in late February, it prompted the NEA leader to ask for Paige's resignation.

NEA President Reg Weaver called on President Bush to express his regret to the nation's educators and demand that Paige step down.

"Our members say that if the Bush administration cannot work with the public school employees who educate these children every day, then it is time to find new leadership who can," Weaver stated.

Paige made the comment in a private meeting at the White House with several members of the National Governors Association. Paige soon thereafter wrote an apology, but continued to criticize NEA, saying the organization's "high-priced Washington lobbyists" use scare tactics and still fight against No Child Left Behind's goal to improve academic achievement for all children. He distinguished the lobbyists from the teachers, who are the "real soldiers of democracy."

Weaver says the national leader has "insulted them, this time beyond repair, with words filled with hatred" and only because they are concerned about some requirements of the two-year-old law.

The American Federation of School Administrators, the national labor union for principals and administrators, issued a statement saying the comment was "outrageous." "Rod Paige ... should do more than issue a left-handed apology to the NEA. He should publicly pledge his support to work with the NEA, AFSA and the education community to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act and to amend it as appropriate in order for it to succeed for all students."

States Jump Ship

Enough is enough. That's what more than a dozen states are saying to No Child Left Behind. Some state legislatures are requesting waivers or additional funding, while some refuse to spend their own money and some won't bother with the law at all, according to Scott Young, education policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As of early March, 15 state legislatures had resolutions to request waivers from the U.S. Department of Education or wanted additional funding. The waivers would allow such states to not meet certain requirements under the act, such as adequate yearly progress requirements or highly qualified teachers. All resolutions and bills were still being considered as of early March, except Vermont's bill.

Vermont decided it will go along with NCLB as long as it does not cost the state extra money, Young says.

The plethora of states standing up to the federal government and Bush administration comes in part because many states are finally seeing cost results of studies that legislatures sought last year, Young says. Ohio's cost study revealed the state would have to spend $1.5 billion a year to meet No Child requirements, about twice what the state currently receives in federal funds.

Even Oklahoma State Rep. Bill Graves suggested that Congress repeal the entire law, according to published reports.

Young says he tells legislatures that NCLB has admirable goals, but that holding students with serious disabilities to AYP requirements and demanding highly qualified teachers, even in hard-to-staff areas during a fiscal squeeze, are tough.

He says the federal government should make "major changes" in the law before states act. "Everyone is talking about what is wrong with the law," he says. "But no one is talking about how do you increase student performance. The regulations and requirements are taking the focus away from what No Child Left Behind should be focused on."

Struggling English Language Learner Might Be at Advantage

Robert Garcia, 10, is a persistent student who likes school, but he struggles with the English language. Having grown up in a home where Spanish is the dominant language, the fifth grader at California's Keyes Elementary struggles with comprehending math problems and reading books at his grade level.

In this small K-5 school, about half of the 552 students are English language learners.

"He's a very good student," says Dina Rodriguez, his classroom teacher. "He doesn't get into trouble. He likes to come to school, and he likes to learn. But reading and math don't come as easy to him as it does to a lot of the students here."

As of late February, Robert was reading on a 3.9 level, or third-grade, ninth-month level, compared to where he should be--on a 5.6 level.

The school's reading program, Open Court Reading, includes having students read all morning and part of the afternoon. The students read together and they read silently on their own. In Rodriguez' class, they choose a book on their reading level and then take a test on computers, using Accelerated Reader software. They also use a program called Read Naturally, which is designed to increase fluency, she says.

And Rodriguez has students read books on tape so as they read the words they are also hearing the words, which reinforces learning. "When Robert takes quizzes on those, he does much better," Rodriguez says.

Robert will take the California Achievement Test this month, like most students in the district. But Rodriguez is not concerned about his language handicap. "I think it's harder now for kids that do have a second language because they are not only learning math and science, but they are also learning another language," she says. "But it gets easier and easier as the years go by."

Rodriguez adds that English language learners can almost be at an advantage. For example, when her students work on vocabulary, they will look for the Latin root. Part of the word will mean something to them in their language, which can help them figure it out in English, she says.

In math, teacher Michael Enos says Robert's weakness is reading the problems. "That hurts him a little bit," Enos says. "It may take him longer to do it, but he can do the problems."

In working with fractions or other abstract math problems, "we draw them out" or use paper blocks to visually understand them, Enos says.

Robert is at a grade level 2, which means he's slightly below grade level. Enos hopes to get him up to a 2+ by the end of the school year, meaning he could do the work with some help.

"Each day," Rodriguez says, "they are learning new things."

More Breathing Room for Highly Qualified Teachers

The federal Department of Education proved it is listening to the increasing criticism of No Child Left Behind when it announced in March more flexibility in how a teacher could be considered highly qualified. Since the law was passed two years ago, educators have complained about what they view as hard-to-meet mandates.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said this change would particularly help rural schools, science teachers and multi-subject teachers. The former regulation stated that a highly qualified teacher must have a bachelor's degree, a full state certification or license, and prove they know each subject they teach. The new policy says rural teachers who are highly qualified in at least one subject will have three years to become highly qualified in other subjects they teach. For science teachers, states may decide, based on certification requirements, that these teachers demonstrate they are highly qualified either in "broad field" science or individual fields of science, such as physics or biology. And states may develop a method for multi-subject teachers to demonstrate through one process that they are highly qualified in each of the subjects they teach. The new policy makes it easier for districts to get their core academic teachers highly qualified by 2005-06.

NCLB Hotline Help

A new toll-free information resource line will give superintendents key information about the No Child Left Behind act.

The line, 1-888-NCLB-SUP, offers information about the law, including accountability, measuring school progress, Reading First grants and details on the new highly qualified teacher provisions.

It's staffed every weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Superintendents may also send e-mails to NCLBSUP@ed.gov.


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