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Program to decipher No Child Left Behind

By Halimah Abdullah

The battle against parental apathy was fought with M&Ms, Beanie Babies, and lots and lots of brainstorming.

Partners in Public Education and Memphis City Schools hope their efforts to train an army of informed and involved parents will spark a revolution.

"We don't care if you meet in schools, churches, community centers ... get the message out and get organized," Charles Renfroe, a program director with PIPE, told a group of roughly 20 parents and counselors Tuesday during a training session at the Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Center.

The increased sense of urgency is sparked by concerns that parents are having a hard time deciphering No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration's signature education reform program. At the four-year mark, community leaders and educators are finding that sometimes the finer points of NCLB get lost in translation.

PIPE, the Memphis schools district and other groups hope a newly created community report card will help make the mandate easier for parents to understand.

On the community report card, which became available online Tuesday, a green light means a school has made "adequate yearly progress" -- sufficient strides toward NCLB goals.

A red light means a school hasn't.

Traditionally, parents get that type of information every fall on the Tennessee Department of Education's Web site. State and federal department of education officials point to easier access to data as proof that parents are better informed under NCLB.

But there's always room for improvement, they said.

"Is it easy to understand? Absolutely not," said Lana Seivers, the state's education commissioner. "Our job is to boil it down and give parents the tools."

Many parents have said the deluge of state-released schools data, coupled with complex charts and terms like "criterion referenced tests" is intimidating.

Others have a hard time understanding why a school made adequate yearly progress in core subjects like math and reading, but still failed because it didn't meet NCLB attendance goals. Last school year, seven Memphis city schools failed to make adequate yearly progress solely because of attendance.

PIPE officials hope parents will use both sets of report cards to better educate themselves about their child's progress. The community report card will publish several months after the state releases its NCLB figures.

Behind the numbers is a growing realization that "it's really parent energy that counts in making our schools the best in the country," said David Wayne Brown, PIPE's board chairman.

A parent's failure to send a child to school regularly might contribute to that school failing to meet federal attendance targets. Sending a child to school without breakfast might mean the child is sluggish in class and when taking NCLB mandated tests.

District officials said past efforts to involve parents have netted mixed results.

In November, meetings for the five Memphis schools that faced a state takeover under NCLB were sparsely attended. At Geeter Middle School, only five of the roughly 30 attendees raised their hands to show they had children in the school.

The rest were teachers.

In contrast, over the past two weeks, hundreds of parents have filled district auditoriums to protest proposed school closings.

— Halimah Abdullah
Commercial Appeal


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