Local educators have say on No Child Left Behind program
By Hank Beckman For The Sun May 17, 2011 7:14PM
Updated: September 28, 2011 12:18AM
As the 2014 deadline for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind approaches, educators all over the nation are debating what a new version of the standards-based reform package will look like.
U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Hinsdale) sponsored a forum on the topic Tuesday at the administrative offices of Indian Prairie School District 204, inviting education officials from throughout her congressional district.
“We are really focusing in (on reauthorization),” Biggert said, noting that there existed some negative connotations about the legislation and the goal was to get more authority and flexibility back to local schools.
“We don’t want to be the national board of education,” she said, stressing the unrealistic expectations fostered by the original legislation.
NCLB is a standards-based reform passed with bipartisan support in 2001 and had as its centerpiece the goal of every American school child performing at grade level in reading and math by 2014.
Schools that don’t make Adequate Yearly Progress toward the standard are subject to various penalties until they improve.
Many have criticized the goals as being unrealistic, with too many outside variables to prevent them from being realized.
Others, including many educators, have complained that the focus on standards has reduced teachers to “teaching to the test.” Still others complain that the reforms have not been fully funded by the federal government.
Local educators clearly see a need to change to a more attainable goal.
“What originally came from NCLB was good,” Indian Prairie School District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett said. “It forced us to focus on subgroups.”
But Birkett criticized the legislation as not being a growth model.
“There has to be some flexibility and it has to be easily understood,” she said.
Downers Grove District 99 Superintendent Mark McDonald agreed, but noted that NCLB also hindered progress because it focused on reading and math to the exclusion of many other subjects.
“It’s holding us back from creating a system for the future,” he said.
Val Dranias, president of Indian Prairie Education Association, agreed that NCLB had is good points, but said a school could fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress simply because of problems in just one of its subgroups.
Dranias also noted that at-risk subgroups were not the only students who deserved attention.
“I’m concerned about the cuts to gifted student programs,” she said.
Biggert was in agreement with the educators on the need to adjust expectations, and indicated that a growth model that mandated continuous progress for every student was likely to be adopted in the reauthorization process.
As for the gifted students, Biggert noted that it hadn’t been funded in the 2011 budget, and was thought by some to be unnecessary because it affected so few students.
“We’re going to fight for funding,” she said.
Funding for reforms was also a sore point with some in the room.
“I’m concerned about cuts in general,” Paul Zaander, superintendent of Downers Grove District 58, said. “I want stable funding over time.”
Biggert said that some sort of reauthorization, whether in a comprehensive bill or in smaller pieces of legislation, would be done by the end of 2011.
Birkett stressed the need to adjust how improvement was judged, saying, “We spend too much time on restructuring plans.”
Birkett noted the problem of losing control of the process and the difficulty of balancing the demands of both the state and federal governments, particularly with Illinois in seeming perpetual budget crisis.
“It’s very important to see what’s going to come out of the state,” she said.