Tuesday, July 20, 2004

About 200 educators at a national summit in Washington shared positive learning gains under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, in stark contrast to continuing complaints against the law by teachers unions.

The law’s $3 billion in Reading First grants in the past three years has enabled schools to hire reading coaches to help elementary teachers boost language proficiency, said Sandy Granchelli, a coach from Coventry, Conn.

“I think teachers need to have the opportunity to go beyond just one-shot professional development in order to have sustained change in the schools,” Mrs. Granchelli said.

Don Stratton, a sixth-grade teacher from Perris, Calif., said the No Child Left Behind Act is helpful, but a lot of work needs to be done.

“It’s going to take commitment on the part of teachers, administrators and state personnel. More states need to become proactive in making sure that children are reading at grade level, learning how to do math at grade level and making adequate progress,” he said.

Mr. Stratton dismissed complaints by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers that the law is unrealistic and unworkable.

His school, whose students are “95 percent socioeconomically deprived,” has made adequate progress through learning gains in all student subgroups in the past two years. He said the numbers demonstrate that the law “has already helped a great deal.”

The summit at the U.S. Department of Education featured master teachers who shared “what works” for them in reading and math instruction.

Ray Simon, the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said many school leaders have overreacted to the law’s testing and accountability provisions by cutting elective courses to focus on reading and math.

“The law doesn’t say that the curriculum needs to be narrow, that arts need to be eliminated, that recess needs to be done away with. That’s a defensive posture that some schools feel they have to take, which is really not called for,” he said.

Mr. Simon said school districts facing difficulty in attracting quality teachers should take advantage of the law’s funding for incentive pay.

“You’ll find some parts of every state, I’d venture, that will have an excess of teacher applicants, yet you have other parts of the state and certain school districts or schools where nobody wants to go,” he said.

“We’re going to have to learn how to differentiate and pay teachers incentives to go where they don’t want to go. And there’s money in No Child Left Behind that can be directed for incentive pay for teachers.”

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