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Schools Will File Lawsuit Over Federal Act Funding
BRANDON — Vermonters who don't know about the Vermont Society for the Study of Education might take more notice of it after Feb. 7, when schools in the Northeast Supervisory Union file a federal lawsuit claiming the No Child Left Behind Act is seriously underfunded.
That lawsuit was among the subjects discussed Friday when the VSSE had its first meeting with a new Advisory Board of nonmember residents with knowledge of educational matters. Now three and a half years old, the VSSE has more than 60 members, but conducts much of its activity through eight Senior Fellows.
One of the Senior Fellows, Rutland Northeast superintendent William Mathis, recently got national recognition from an unexpected source.
In a Parade magazine article that was included in the Jan. 23 Sunday Rutland Herald/Times Argus, Norman Mailer quoted Mathis while analyzing No Child Left Behind Act.
"As one of the finer educational minds in America, William J. Mathis, put it: 'There is scant evidence that the AYP train can even get out of the station."
"AYP" is short for "Adequate Yearly Progress," a requirement for all groups of students in all public schools eligible for federal Title I funds (to help slower students), though not private schools.
Mathis said the lawsuit, which will be filed through the Washington, D.C., law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser, argues schools have no control over the home and community environments that influence school performance.
To meet the NCLB requirements, enough federal money would be needed to counter the effects of poverty and other forces detracting from student performance — but no such funds are provided.
Brandon, Leicester, Sudbury, Pittsford and Whiting will take part in the lawsuit, Mathis said.
Otter Valley Union High School will join them because it is Title One eligible, even though it receives no such federal funds, and therefore has to test students in eighth and 10th grades and meet federal requirements.
Marlboro has also shown interest in being part of the lawsuit, Mathis said. School districts in Michigan and Texas will also be involved.
Repeated failure to show yearly progress toward all students meeting NCLB's high standards can bring cuts in school funds or even a forced change in school governance.
Asked about the public's feeling that American schools are falling behind foreign schools and are experiencing a crisis of quality, Mathis said it is a manufactured crisis based on phony statistics.
The foreign countries that are supposedly doing better have higher dropout rates, so a smaller group of better students take the tests, he said.
Actually, by many measures, American schools are doing better than ever before, Mathis said, though there are disturbing indications that "teaching to the test" to get higher NCLB school scores is narrowing that educational effort.
Senior Fellow Sidney Glassner said a classic example was a national panel convened to discuss NCLB reading scores and make recommendations based on research that was "not bona fide." Only one person on the panel had any experience teaching reading, he said.
"She published a dissenting report that she had to pay for and publish herself," Glassner said, because those in charge would not let her opinion become public.
Much of the meeting was given to discussion of VSSE's mission and goals. The group predated NCLB, the members noted, and countering it has to some extent been a distraction from their general mission.
Now, they agreed, the time has come to seek greater funding and increase their public profile.
Already the group circulates the quarterly VSSE Education Report, issues the VSSE Broadside on selected topics, has given John Dewey Awards at six Green Mountain summits, has created an informational video for public access television and has furnished information to the Legislature. Each legislator has received VSSE's educational fact book.
Individual members have written editorials, acted as consultants and authored books. One of the latest books, co-authored by Ohanian and Kathy Emery, was Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?
This spring, the group might also gain recognition through a series of four symposiums on educational issues in partnership with Middlebury College, which has a teacher training program.
Senior Fellows Mathis, Glassner, Ohanian and Steven Gross — who has a Middlebury home, but teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia — will take turns leading the discussions.
The group's goals need to be examined, refined, developed and linked with action plans, the members decided.
But one basic value is unlikely to change, they agreed: the view that education's foremost goal is preparing children to become thoughtful and effective members of a democratic society — not to do well on one particular day on one narrowly focused test.
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