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Official: 'No Child Left Behind' Law Harms Students

Ohanian Comment: Watch Vallas position himself for a position at federal level. He's not joining the chorus of complainer but standing out as someone who will make NCLB work.

The superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District told a Senate hearing in Washington yesterday that the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act had been "destructive" to the children of Pennsylvania.

Superintendent James R. Scanlon said that special-education students and non-English speakers had been especially hurt by the law.

In prepared remarks, Scanlon urged Congress to halt the damage by fully funding the law.

The Bucks County educator was among several Pennsylvanians who testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education, chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Specter had invited the group after a Monday meeting at Norristown Area High School in which 138 school superintendents from 14 Pennsylvania counties protested the federal law.

Scanlon told the subcommittee yesterday that he was speaking for his 137 colleagues; together, they represent more than a fourth of the state's 500 districts, with more than a third of the state's 1.8 million students.

At their meeting in Norristown, the educators said the federal law costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement, places too much priority on testing, and sets unrealistic goals for students to meet. They called for better funding and asked that special-education students be exempt from taking the mandated tests and that testing of students with limited English skills be delayed.

The law has elicited a groundswell of protest in some states and has become a flash point for candidates in the Democratic primaries.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige went before the panel yesterday to discuss the law, and Specter said he wanted Paige to hear the criticisms of the Pennsylvania superintendents.

After hearing the testimony, Specter said the law was sound but needed modifications. Special-education students and students with limited English proficiency should not be held to the same standards. "We need more flexibility," he said.

The hearing comes as the subcommittee considers the proposed 2004-05 budget funding for No Child Left Behind. The Bush administration has asked for $24.7 billion, an increase of 1.9 percent, or $463 million.

Specter said he thought the increase was reasonable.

James R. Weaver, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, testified yesterday that No Child Left Behind was "fundamentally flawed and fundamentally wrong."

Weaver told the subcommittee, in prepared remarks: "I have had teachers tell me the pressure on schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress [a No Child Left Behind requirement] in math and reading is so strong that they are forced to abandon teaching anything other than what is to be tested."

But Paul Vallas, chief executive officer of the Philadelphia School District, testified that the law rightly aims at closing the achievement gap between majority and minority groups.

And, he said, it sets high expectations for all students.

"Sure, it's not perfect," Vallas said after testifying. But "we've been crying for a larger role from the federal government in education.

"Now we've got it. Let's make it work."

Quakertown's Scanlon said that at its current funding, the law "disregards the amount of time, funding and resources [needed] to meet the requirements in the law."

No Child Left Behind, he said, is "inherently unfair to special-education students and conflicts with the federal law" and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act.

"IDEA says special-education students are entitled to progress at different rates," Scanlon said, but "No Child Left Behind says all students must progress at the same rate...

"We are being asked to answer to two completely contradictory federal laws, and our special-needs students are caught in the middle."

Students unfamiliar with English fare no better, he said.

"No Child Left Behind requires non-English-speaking students to be assessed during their first year of attendance in school in the United States," Scanlon said. "In effect, these limited-English-speaking students are being forced to take a test many of them don't even understand."

Also testifying were Marie Slobojan, director of instruction in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District in Chester County, and Melissa Jamula, superintendent of the Reading School District in Berks County.

C. Delores Tucker, founder of the Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr. Association for Nonviolence Inc., and Sam Evans, founder of the American Foundation for Negro Affairs, also testified yesterday.

— Walter F. Naedele and Susan Snyder



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