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Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

No Child’ challenge

Listening to some people in the educational trenches is the first step in making needed changes to federal education policy.

April 7, 2007

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It's good to see that the city's two representatives in the U.S. House are interested in improving the federal No Child Left Behind education mandate.

During a visit Thursday to Lawrence, Reps. Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda met with a group of parents, school board members, school administrators and teachers as part of a tour to gather information about the federal program and how it should be changed. In some areas, the NCLB program reflects a lack of understanding about what works and doesn't work in the classroom, so it's good for Congress to do some listening before tackling possible revisions to the law.

No educator argues with the sentiment of "No Child Left Behind." No teacher wants to condemn any student to failure. But the rigid use of standardized tests is a narrow way to determine not only success in the classroom but the funding schools will receive.

There are many aspects of individual learning and development that can't be measured by standardized tests. But because that's the only way the federal government measures educational "progress," teachers are forced to "teach to the tests" in an effort to preserve their school's good standing and funding.

However, as Moore pointed out, federal funding has never kept up with federal education demands. Since 2002, funding for NCLB has fallen nearly $55 billion short of what the president and Congress originally committed to the plan, he said.

The unfunded NCLB mandate has put pressure on teachers and perhaps made the whole profession less attractive. It forces teachers to narrowly focus on tested principles of math and reading, sometimes to the detriment of other academic areas and more creative teaching techniques that might be beneficial to many students. And the program mandates what every educator says is an unattainable goal: to get every student, even those with disabilities that affect their learning, to perform at an ever-increasing level on the same standardized test.

Although No Child Left Behind is a good goal, the federal program clearly needs changes to apply the law more fairly from state to state and allow local districts and their teachers and administrators the flexibility they need to address individual student needs. It is hoped our congressional representatives will take that message back to Washington and work to implement some positive changes on a law that affects the education of all Kansas children.

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