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Dodd Calls For Reforms In Federal Schools Law

U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd is proposing reforms to the federal No Child Left Behind Act that would give states and school districts more flexibility to use multiple ways to measure student achievement and target tutoring and school choice options to the most needy children.

During a visit to Moylan Elementary School in Hartford Friday, Dodd also proposed changing the law to make it easier for teachers to teach multiple subjects.

As the law stands, student achievement and a school's success are gauged only by annual tests. Dodd's proposal would permit the consideration of individual student improvement and graduation rates.

Also, now teachers must have a degree in the subjects they teach. Dodd's plan would allow a teacher with a degree in biology, for example, to take a test to teach chemistry as well. And now, the law demands that all students enrolled in a school deemed to need improvement be given the chance to transfer or have tutors. Dodd's bill would allow districts to offer those options to students who struggle the most.

"I don't think any of us disagree with the goals of No Child Left Behind," Dodd said at Moylan, one of Hartford's schools labeled as in need of improvement. "The implementation of it is where things begin to fall down."

The U.S. Department of Education indicated it would oppose Dodd's revisions. "For decades, an achievement gap was allowed to grow in our nation's schools, with wealthier and white students on one track and disadvantaged, disabled and minority students increasingly on another," wrote spokeswoman Samara Yudof. "Students were misdiagnosed, victimized by low expectations and hidden behind district-wide averages - out of sight and left behind. We must stay the course on this law and not back down - our kids deserve it, not backpedaling in the name of reform."

State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, who did not attend Dodd's presentation, said she is delighted by his ideas. But she and Hartford administrators said they want two more changes.

Specifically, Tally Negroni, Hartford's senior director for implementing No Child Left Behind, said it is imperative for the district to be able to hire its own certified teachers as tutors for children. Currently, the law prohibits teachers from schools and districts labeled "in need of improvement" from providing supplemental services.

Also, Sternberg, who has been dueling with the U.S. Department of Education over her request for a waiver of the requirement to test grades 3, 5 and 7, wants states to decide on their own which grades to test.

Each year, Connecticut tests children in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10. Adding the testing for three more grades would cost slightly more than $8 million. Sternberg said she'd rather use that money to help improve literacy for the children's parents - in Harford 40 percent of all adults are functionally illiterate - and to expand high-quality preschool programs and mental and physical health services for poor children and their parents. Federal officials have rejected her request.

Dodd said he is open to adding those two provisions to his bill.

Audience members told Dodd that urban schools need more support for parents, teachers and children.

Teachers said they need more social workers, psychological services and literacy teachers.

— Rachel Gottlieb
Hartford Courant


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