Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

2/25/2004

Yecke calls NCLB a "Morally Righteous Law"

THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By George Archibald
September 22, 2003

Reform-minded school leaders from 42 states met with Bush administration officials in Nashville during the weekend to discuss "the next steps" to improve student achievement in public schools.

About 300 school leaders who support the federal No Child Left Behind Act suggested "fine-tuning" the law to help small, rural schools meet the requirements for highly qualified teachers in every classroom by 2005 to 2006.

"We have gotten much support from superintendents, school administrators, principals, teachers, many of whom understand that there is a need for change," said Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's commissioner of education, who attended the Education Leaders Council Eighth annual meeting.

Mrs. Yecke said the act is "a strong law, a morally righteous law [whose] greatest strength" requires school districts to achieve "adequate yearly progress" and report the achievement between privileged and disadvantaged students according to demographic categories for racial, ethnic and "special needs" groups.

The Minnesota education commissioner said her biggest challenge in implementing the act in her state was the "special circumstances" of rural schools with perhaps no more than 50 students and federal requirements that teachers be certified separately in each course.

"For example, the highly-qualified-teacher requirement is going to be very difficult for a K-12 school that might only have 50 children in it," she said.

Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive officer of the Education Leaders Council, said the conference brought state and local school leaders who support the No Child Left Behind Act together with Bush administration officials to map solutions for problems encountered.

"No Child Left Behind has changed the national dialogue about what we're doing in schools. The focus is on how the children are doing, finally," she told The Washington Times.

Many commercial tutoring companies and other education providers attended the
conference.

"There's a lot of push-back from some of the states that don't want to let these private providers provide supplementary tutoring, etc., because it takes away from the districts to help the child, which is great, that's the right thing," Mrs. Keegan said.

A major focus of the conference, she said, was to convince state and administration officials that "this is working, here's the next steps, here's the new things you can do, things like the American Board [for alternative certification of business and military professionals as teachers], let's get that adopted in your state, let's talk about strategy, just sort of a reinvigoration and our next steps."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and a heart-lung transplant surgeon, told the conference in his keynote speech that the act aims to hold states accountable through standardized tests for achievement of students in ethnic, special-education, and limited-English-proficiency subgroups.

"As in surgery, the first thing you've got to do is get a diagnosis. Breaking down the data simply empowers educators with the information," he said. "Without it, they can't really make a difference."

Mr. Frist said emphasis on student achievement has changed the nation's educational focus. "For years, schools have measured their success by amount of money spent, the number of computers, the number of textbooks, the number of government programs," he said.

Mr. Frist said accusations about insufficient funding were unwarranted, and that an additional $13.5 billion in federal funds have been spent on federal elementary and secondary school programs since the Bush administration took office, even though the Iraq war and other issues have prevented Congress from spending as much as initially promised.

Mrs. Yecke said critics of No Child Left Behind funding disregard evidence that more spending does not bring greater student achievement.

"Look at Washington, D.C., highest per-pupil spending in the nation, yet student achievement in most Washington, D.C., schools is an American tragedy," she said.