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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Turn the Paige?

It's becoming the comment that won't go away. A petition and advertising campaign directed at Secretary of Education Rod Paige says he has flunked his job and should be fired for calling the nation's largest teacher's union a "terrorist organization."

The drive, directed by the Campaign for America's Future, delivered a petition to the White House recently signed by 250,000 people. The organization is also erecting signs at bus stops and subway platforms showing a young girl writing an "F" on a blackboard over a headline reading: 250,000 Tell Bush Team: You Flunk.

"People across the country are upset President Bush has broken his education promises. It's time to turn the Paige," says Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America's Future, a progressive activist group connected to the campaign. Borosage says issues around funding new education reforms need to be addressed and having Paige resort to name calling has fueled tensions.

Last February Paige publicly characterized the National Education Association as a "terrorist organization" in describing how the union's leadership often acts at odds with the wishes of its members. Paige later conceded that his choice of words was "inappropriate."

Members of Paige's staff say the petition drive and the advertisements are simply partisan politics. "It's special-interest politics in a political year," says Susan Aspey, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. "The secretary is more interested in kids learning than he is with politics."

The institute says it will keep pressing their campaign to have Paige fired. Among those who signed the petition, more than one-third identified themselves as parents and one-quarter identified themselves as teachers, according to the institute.

--Margaret Tierney

States Look for Tech Edge in NCLB

No Child Left Behind calls for technological literacy among students by ninth grade, but educators say school districts should look beyond the federal mandate's section devoted to technology to understand what a tech-savvy school system should look like.

"In almost every program [in NCLB], technology is critical to the effectiveness of the program," says Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

To wit, the three-year-old group has recently released the second of its annual "toolkits" of tips and strategies to help states implement NCLB through technology. The strategies are culled from brainstorming sessions of state education technology experts at SETDA's annual National Leadership Institute conference, where federal Department of Education members took an active part in the sessions.

In New Mexico's Reading First program, teachers are using handheld computers to evaluate student reading skills. It allows teachers to individualize instruction to help kids where they need help.

Susan Patrick, director of the DOE's Office of Educational Technology, says this participation should help quell assertions that NCLB is an unfunded mandate. Before NCLB, she says, state education technology funding was $450 million annually. "In the last three years it's been $700 million per year--so the technology funding has increased."

In one example, Patrick says the government doled out 10 grants totaling $15 million to help states learn how to conduct scientifically based research and study the potency of their technology programs. Iowa educators, for instance, will use their share to assess their statewide education communications network.

George and other state educators say the newest toolkit takes a more detailed look at building partnerships and leveraging resources due to financial constraints. "Every state is concerned about the scarcity of dollars," says Arthur Skerker, educational technology/learning resources consultant with the Connecticut DOE. "The toolkit provides a rational way to look at what we have and how we can add value."

Skerker says the toolkit helped frame discussions between various states' school superintendents on a recent visit to Maine to learn about laptop deployment. "We're all concerned about performance-based data management," he says. "We want to make sure that we can begin to visit data that shows us that how we're using technology is entirely appropriate."

--Allan Richter

Lazy days of summer ... in class

This is part of a series to follow four students across the nation and report on their progress or lack thereof in meeting the requirements of NCLB. This is our second look at Mikeidra Mitchell, who just finished sixth grade at Buchanan Elementary School in Hamilton, Ohio.

For now, it looks like Ohio sixth-grader Mikeidra Mitchell is not being left behind. She will attend seventh grade this fall, but not without a detour to summer school.

According to the Ohio Proficiency Test, Mikeidra improved in reading and math, scoring 215 in reading when passing is 200 and scoring 189 in math when passing is 200. She shows talent in writing, but science and citizenship scores were each 198, when passing is 200.

Hamilton School District's summer school will offer extra help and intervention so her transition to Garfield Middle School this fall will be smoother. In addition, she will take part in reading and math labs at the school, which provide intervention to those who did not pass the sixth grade proficiency test.

Starting off the past school year with one A, three Bs and one D has brought her more attention. And her fifth-grade proficiency test scores showed she was on the cusp of proficiency for reading, math and science, but needed individualized work.

At Buchanan Elementary School, Mikeidra rose to the challenge given her As and Bs in the fourth quarter. "The biggest change in Mikeidra is that she has way more self-confidence and she's having fun learning," says classroom teacher Kathy Issenmann. "She still gives awesome effort."

Other tests given to sixth-graders over the past year have shown improvement, Issenmann says. Last fall, Mikeidra tested at a 2.8 grade level in reading comprehension by Accelerated Reader software program. She rose 2.5 years, or two years and five months, to be at 5.3 level.

Buchanan Principal Tim Carr is sure Mikeidra, with summer school coupled with parental support, will not be left behind. "I am confident Mikeidra will make it to the scores she needs to attain in the near future," he says.

But achievement gaps exist with 78 percent of white students at or above reading proficiency nationwide, but only 53 percent of black students and 60 percent of Hispanic students at or above proficiency. In math, nearly 68 percent of white students are at or above proficiency, but only 33 percent of blacks and nearly 47 percent of Hispanics have reached this level.

Five years ago, Ohio aligned new academic content standards to the curriculum, contributing to success, says J.C. Benton, spokesman for Ohio Department of Education. But the nagging achievement gap led the state Board of Education to establish in 2002 the Closing Achievement Gaps Task Force, comprised of educators, parents, and business and community people. The task force created three strategies including: focusing on high achievement for all, such as developing measurable outcomes that emphasize everyone's role in closing gaps; ensuring that educators are prepared and supported; and adapting structures to student needs, such as access to preschool and full-day kindergarten.

Summer Program Aims to Boost Reading

Summer won't just be about bicycling through the streets and dipping in the pool for students in 11 school districts nationwide.

These students will be taking part in the No Child Left Behind Summer Reading Achievers Program, which is designed to encourage kindergartners through eighth-graders to read through the lazy days of summer. The students should read at least 10 age-appropriate books and write a short synopsis during the 10-week break. Those who finish will get prizes and certificates.

The idea is to help eliminate the summertime slump, in which children often lose reading and other skills during the long summer because their brains are not fully stimulated. It is particularly problematic for low-income and disadvantaged students, say officials at the U.S. Department of Education. The program was initially piloted last year in Atlanta Public Schools.

New Teacher Training

A select number of interested teachers will be able to participate in a new Teacher-to-Teacher initiative established by the U.S. Department of Education.

The initiative was created in response to fears that the No Child Left Behind act requirements cannot be satisfied. Teachers will receive support in summer workshops in various cities and then return to their districts to share what they've learned.

The initiative will consist of discussions of effective teaching strategies, professional development activities, and e-mail updates of policies and research.