Local teachers are working hard to stop Congress from reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the 2001 law introduced by President George W. Bush that was intended to improve student performance and increase school accountability.
Some teachers in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and across the state believe the law does the opposite of what it says — it leaves the children behind. And these teachers are protesting Congress’s plan to reauthorize the law that some say is flawed and focuses too much on test scores.
But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Congressman George Miller, are working to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, with several amendments.
Pelosi and Miller’s proposal only makes a bad law worse, says Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, which represents about 750 teachers.
“One of the things that they have continued to look at is to continue to rely too heavily on test scores to determine if schools are successful,” Keiley said. “Test scores are a snapshot in time on how students are doing on a given day at a given time. This overemphasis on standardized test scores is not what’s in the best interests for students.”
Some also believe the law is punitive toward teachers and students, and instead of helping public schools, places a number of sanctions on them.
“They’re using sanctions to punish schools that don’t reach these benchmarks, and at the same time, not providing us with the resources we need,” Keiley said.
According to the California Teachers Association — which represents over 300,000 public school teachers in the state — the act creates a new federal mandate to pay and evaluate teachers based on student test scores. And some believe that test scores do not fairly measure student achievement.
“Merit pay has never proven to be an effective reform, so we think they should abandon that proposal,” says Keiley.
The Miller/Pelosi reauthorization plan also imposes new federal mandates that many teachers believe undermine local control and erode employee rights, California Teachers Association officials say.
“We want to reach out to Nancy Pelosi and George Miller and say, “You have to fix this law with reforms that actually work,” says Keiley.
Sarah Braff, a teacher at Will Rogers Learning Community in Santa Monica for 18 years, agrees.
“Teachers have been trying to get the bill amended, but Pelosi and Miller appear determined to throw out the suggestions of teachers in favor of a quick and non-transparent deal, to shove it through as is,” Braff says.
And Santa Monica High School history teacher Don Hedrick says, “No Child Left Behind has wound up leaving entire schools and communities behind.
“We know that smaller class sizes are the best way to improve a child’s education, but instead of fixing anything, we’re just going to wind up spending all our time testing kids so we can find out which children and which schools to punish next.”
Earlier this year, the California Teachers Association launched a campaign to “Erase, Rewrite and Reauthorize NCLB.”
“NCLB is a plan that was ill-conceived from the beginning,” Braff says.
“First, while assessment is an integral part of learning, a multiple-choice test, given on a particular day, is not an accurate measure of a child. Secondly, all teachers want to bridge the gap between different economic classes and ethnicity. However, that takes support, which is completely underfunded in NCLB as it stands today.”
So teachers like Braff and Hedrick have been asking people to call their congressional representative immediately — as well as the offices of Pelosi and Miller — to ask them not to reauthorize the current legislation.
“We believe that teaching and learning is more than just taking tests and test scores,” said Keiley. “I would say the overwhelming majority of our members are very concerned with the amount of time spent on testing students.
“We should be teaching our students to be critical thinkers, global citizens in the 21st century. We should be teaching them to be innovators, collaborators and problem solvers, students that appreciate the arts, embrace diversity.”
Keiley says the law is broken and needs to be amended and fixed.
“It’s not that Congress doesn’t have their hearts in the right places, but the fact is that Congress is so far removed from the average public school classroom,” he says. “We’re asking Congress to listen to the people that are actually held accountable for implementing the law — teachers.”
Some teachers believe that other changes should be made to the law, for example, using more than test scores to measure student and school success, modernizing facilities, finding ways to build parent-teacher partnerships, professional development by teachers for teachers and smaller class sizes.
“We don’t need more tests or more bureaucrats,” says Keiley. “We need smaller classes and teachers who are allowed to actually teach. The law, as it is currently, is a disservice to many teachers, students and public schools.
“It’s shortchanging our students, our families and more importantly, ourselves. We hope at the end of the day, Congress will listen to the voices of classroom teachers.”