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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Large District Leaders Back NCLB

In Small Town USA, No Child Left Behind looks more like a foe than a friend. But most big city leaders think it's a reasonable challenge.

This was one result of a national survey of school superintendents and principals, Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What's Needed to Fix Public Schools, conducted by Public Agenda. The results show that large district leaders are more hopeful about the benefits of the law than their small-town counterparts. Aside from that, overall, most superintendents and principals surveyed think NCLB is an unfunded mandate, relies too much on standardized testing, and the consequences and sanctions for schools are unfair.

But only 22 percent of large district leaders believe NCLB "probably won't work" compared to 41 percent of small district leaders.

New Mexico Finally Enchants Teachers

Mountain ranges and rustic stone buildings against cobalt skies are enchanting images of New Mexico. But teachers have been known to steer clear of the beautiful state.

It had among the lowest teacher salary structures in the nation, 11 percent of its teachers had substandard licenses, and it had a severe teacher shortage in 1999-2000. Now, New Mexico has a program that hikes teacher pay while improving teacher quality in part to meet the No Child Left Behind Act.

After years of work by legislators, educators and business leaders, the state legislature adopted and Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law House Bill 212 in 2003. It strengthens teacher quality, professional development, and it improves most teachers' pay and the recruitment of new teachers.

It establishes a "new career ladder for teachers that is performance-based," says James Ball, director of professional licensure for the Department of Education in New Mexico.

"With the stroke of a pen, I believe New Mexico will jump from 46th in the country in teacher salaries to 29th."
-Gov. Bill Richardson

The three-tiered system includes three levels of pay for teachers: ranging from $30,000 to $50,000.

New Mexico always had annual evaluations for teachers, but they were lax and not tied to salary. Now, teachers must pass a number of benchmarks to move up the ladder, including time requirements, the writing of a professional development dossier, and the attainment of a master's degree or a national board certification.

"If a teacher can't advance ... they have to leave the profession," Ball says. Beyond high quality, a teacher must be highly effective.

Highly Qualified Teachers

On a national level, the U.S. Dept. of Education created a Teacher Assistance Corps last summer. It is comprised of federally-appointed expert volunteers who "listen, learn and share" with various state governments and educators to meet the requirement for highly qualified teaching in the new law, according to Carolyn Snowbarger of the DOE. Some states need help recruiting teachers or leading professional development sessions, particularly in rural areas. In Colorado, officials set up a Web site where teacher vacancies are posted. Teachers are sent e-mails to inform them of such positions. In Alabama, they have detailed professional development sessions, particularly in reading for elementary school teachers. The sessions are to help teachers teach to state standards. And the state has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, which has hired reading coaches.

Struggling American Girl: Will She Make Adequate Gains Under Federal Act?

Elizabeth Ashley is a shy, white sixth-grader who likes typical 12-year-old stuff, like hanging out with her friends, listening to music and talking. Her favorite band is Good Charlotte. Her favorite food? Pizza. Her favorite color? Light blue.

When it comes to education at Robert H. Jenkins Junior-Middle School in Palatka, Fla., in Putnam County, Elizabeth struggles with reading and math. But she enjoys, in order, "phys ed, band, social studies and language arts."

Her first nine weeks of grades show she earned As in band and physical education, Bs in language arts and social studies, and Cs in math and science.

Elizabeth started playing the trombone last fall. And she digs social studies because she enjoys "learning stuff about the past." With language arts, even though she struggles with some of the basics, she is inspired by the lives of people.

Assistant Principal Chelsea Merritt says Elizabeth shows signs of struggle in some tests. Her fifth-grade Sunshine State Standards FCAT shows she scored 268 out of 500 in math. She hovers in the high level I area, below proficient, which is Level III. Her reading score was 298 out of 500, which is a low level III.

But according to the FCAT National Norm Reference Test, comparing her to other fifth-graders nationwide, she scored 57 out of 99 in math, with 50 an average score, but only 35 out of 99 in reading.

Betty Huber, Elizabeth's grandmother, is among her biggest rooters. "Her math is pretty good but she has trouble mostly with fractions and some reading problems," says Huber, who reads to her occasionally.

Henrietta Staples, Elizabeth's language arts teacher, says Elizabeth has an advantage over other students because she has great parental support. "She has parents who are encouraging her. They make sure they discuss the books with her," Staples says.

And Elizabeth is conscientious. "She is more motivated than someone who struggles with reading comprehension," Staples says.

Chicago Brings Out Not-so-shy Parents

Long before No Child Left Behind became a reality, Chicago Public Schools brought parents and communities together to improve student achievement. In 1989, the first Local School Council, or LSC, was created in Chicago. Each school council consists of six parents, two community members, two teachers, and a school principal and high school student elected by the students. The LSC was created to stave off teacher dissatisfaction. "We were having, almost every other year, a teacher strike," says James Deanes, LSC officer for the district. "We needed to do something different.

"We came up with the idea to have more input and authority from parents," Deanes says.

"It was felt that people at the local level had a better idea of what the local needs were better than central office," Deanes explains. "So central office gave up some of that authority."

The LSC, which meets monthly, votes on the school implementation plan and budget every year, just as the school board does. LSC members also annually evaluate school principals and decides whether or not to renew a contract or issue a new contract to principals.

Deanes says it works, although it's far from perfect. People say central office still interferes and there is inadequate funding to make proper decisions regarding resources, he says.

The average LSC member spends 28 hours per month aiding their school.

Some LSC members also serve on the Parent Advisory Council, or PAC, which in part approves how funds are spent. PAC parents are usually those who have children who are most affected by No Child, Deanes says. They recommend program ideas to the principal. They attend workshops including literacy classes, or sessions on how to understand instruction and curriculum so they can make informed decisions on their own. Parents also learn how to help their children get to and from school safely, such as how to navigate drug- or crime-infested streets without getting hurt, Deanes says.

While No Child is a "one-size-fits-all" plan, which Deanes disagrees with, because every child's needs differ, Chicago is ahead of the game. "We figured it out and not because we're really smart, but because the public demanded it," Deanes says. "We don't have to get used to having a collaboration to make a decision. We've already done that for 13 years. Other schools now have to come up with a shared vision, a shared plan. And we've gotten pretty good at it."

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