You are here

Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Glimmers Of Hope in No Child

Something good is coming out of adequate yearly progress reports.

In pockets across the nation, such as in North Carolina and Mississippi, great gains are happening.

"What we're seeing and what we track at the school district and state levels is that AYP is showing positive effects in increased student achievement" from 2002 to 2003 and from 2003 to 2004, according to Daria Hall, policy analyst at the Education Trust.

North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and Chapel Hill schools saw their achievement gaps between blacks and whites start to close, Hall says. In 1998, the third-grade math achievement gap between black and white students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg was 40 percentage points. In 2002, the gap was 35 percentage points. But this past year, the gap narrowed to 17 percent.

In Chapel Hill, the third-grade math achievement gap was 41 percentage points in 1998, compared to 39 percentage points in 2002. But this past year, the gap was only 12 percentage points.

This past year, nearly 75 percent of Mississippi's schools were making AYP, according to Henry Johnson, Mississippi's education superintendent.

"We still have a long way to go in absolute terms compared to other states," Johnson says.

In the last decade, fourth-grade math has improved by 21 points, compared to the nation's 15-point gain, he says. "Remember that Mississippi's starting point was lower than the national average's starting point but we're getting better faster than the rest of the country," Johnson adds.

And eighth graders are showing great improvement in math. In 2003, 48 percent of eighth graders were proficient or advanced compared to this past year's 60 percent, says Susan Rucker, associate state superintendent for innovation and school improvement.

The great leaps in Mississippi are attributed to various factors, including intense professional development, particularly greater training for middle school teachers. Many of the teachers lacked enough training in every subject, and especially in a new rigorous curriculum aligned to standards and which includes higher order thinking skills.

"One thing is clear is that professional development must be ongoing," Johnson says. "It can't be a one-shot deal. It has to be relevant to what teachers are doing in the classroom on a daily basis."

Philly Schools Above the Crowd

The Philadelphia school district nearly tripled the number of schools this past school year that met adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind act.

Of the district's 264 schools, 160 met adequate yearly progress based on test scores and graduation and attendance rates under No Child Left Behind, compared to 58 schools in 2003. Philadelphia's schools were taken over by the state three years ago due to the district's poor academic performance and financial straits.

However, 68 schools remain in the worst performance category and can be subject to action under the federal law.

Summer School For Teachers

At seven sites, the U.S. DOE hired veteran teachers to visit 1,400 K-12 teachers and principals this past summer to achieve No Child Left Behind's mission.

"We wanted to make sure teachers were equipped with the tools to achieve [NCLB's] goals," says Rene Islas, special assistant to Education Secretary Rod Paige. The three-day workshops included discussions on how to close achievement gaps and professional development strategies, including how to turn data into usable information to drive instruction.

But Dan Kaufman, National Education Association spokesman, views the series as a "drop in the bucket. ... It's a token gesture to reach out to such a small group of teachers when there are millions of teachers struggling to implement the mandates of the law, which are very rigid, and when funding hasn't been provided for them."

The Comeback Kid

Dylan Morin is among several students District Administration is featuring over the next few months to put a face on the federal No Child Left Behind law, and to gauge how it is working.

Dylan Morin of Palm Bay, Fla., was held back in fourth grade. His greatest albatross was reading.

"I could read but I could not remember it," says 12-year-old Dylan.

Dylan, now a sixth grader at Jupiter Elementary School, a low socioeconomic area in Brevard County School District, suffers from ADHD for which he takes medication. And he always struggled with reading comprehension.

"He had a lot of ups and downs in school," says Jody Morin, Dylan's mother. "I would try pushing him to read, but he wasn't interested in it."

A special reading program, Scholastic's READ 180, reversed that. The research-based, intensive reading intervention program uses adaptive and instructional software as well as direct instruction in reading skills.

"He likes the part where he could hear himself [read the words out loud] in his own cubicle," Mrs. Morin explains. "He loved it."

With four months in the program last year, Dylan's grades shot up to A's and he was put in fifth grade, where he should have been.

Now, back on track, Dylan enjoys reading and is on grade level. "He is absolutely determined to be successful," says Kaycee Cook, his homeroom, science and reading teacher. "He is very focused."

Dylan even asked Cook to move a talkative student to another team because the child disrupted his concentration. "Someone lit a fire under this child," Cook adds with

a laugh.

Cook will have all her students visit a local estuary, Indian River Lagoon, for lab work. There the students will help clean cages and monitor water quality. "I will depend on him because reading skills will come in handy," Cook says.

And Dylan will take part in the school's specialized reading program, Success for All, which tests students' reading levels at the beginning of the school year and then groups them in appropriate reading levels. Cook says she hopes to see Dylan advance a grade level in reading by the end of the school year.

His math is on target. Dylan "sticks out, and he's very eager," says Amy Miller, Dylan's math teacher.

How the South Was Lost

The No Child Left Behind act is taking another hit. This time, an education watchdog group has issued a report saying the federal law is forcing Southeastern states to lower the bar for teacher qualifications.

Although No Child Left Behind mandates that teachers meet standards to be deemed "highly qualified," it neglects teacher quality, says the report Unfulfilled Promise: Ensuring High Quality Teachers for Our Nation's Students from the Southeast Center for Teacher Quality.

In Texas and Georgia, for example, districts are meeting the bare minimum requirements of NCLB by only requiring bachelor of arts degrees and state certification to be considered highly qualified, says Eric Hirsch, an author of the report. This is at the expense of classroom preparation to show educators on how to teach.

Rene Islas, special assistant to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, refuted the report, saying a goal of the law is to balance the heavy emphasis many states place on pedagogy with subject knowledge. If states are using alternative teacher certification programs that are less rigorous "then they are actually out of compliance with the law," Islas adds.

The Southeast Center for Teacher Quality study examined 24 schools in 12 districts in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Its key findings are:

Under NCLB, teachers are considered "highly qualified" if they have a bachelor's degree, have state licenses or certification to teach and prove they know their subjects. But NCLB doesn't address the need to hire "high quality" teachers who can impart their knowledge to students.

Even with federal funding, urban and rural districts struggle to compete in the teacher labor market. "In recruiting teachers," the report says, "few schools moved beyond signing bonuses to more comprehensive approaches," such as better working conditions.

--Allan Richter