- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

SANDY, Ore. (AP) — The homecoming game has been canceled, and parents are running out of ways to keep cranky children entertained because of a teacher strike in which a key sticking point is more than just a local issue: It’s the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In school districts across the country, the Bush administration’s centerpiece education law is beginning to emerge as an issue at the bargaining table.

In Sandy’s 4,200-student Oregon Trail School District, where the strike is in its third week, teachers are afraid they will be replaced, transferred or otherwise penalized if they, their students or their schools fail to measure up under the law, which sets stringent new standards for performance.

While salaries and benefits are also stumbling blocks in the dispute, the teachers and the school board in this city of 5,400 people about 40 miles from Portland are wrangling over contract language related to the No Child Left Behind Act.

“No Child Left Behind is creating issues we didn’t expect four or five years ago,” said Larry Wolf, who heads the Oregon Education Association, the state teachers union. “The law’s approaching deadlines raise flags for both sides.”

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must bring increasing percentages of children from all backgrounds up to standard on reading, math and writing tests. Schools that repeatedly fail to make enough progress face a series of sanctions, the most serious of which include school closure and takeover by a private company.

The law also says that by the end of this school year, teachers must be “highly qualified” in the subject they teach. That definition varies from state to state but generally means that teachers must have majored in the subject they teach, must be certified by the state and must pass an exam.

Teachers in some places are pushing for contract language to protect themselves.

In Oregon, unions are asking for the right to take part in developing new curriculums required under the No Child Left Behind Act, and want assurances that staff members will not be replaced or transferred if a school fails to make enough progress under the law.

Teachers also want to make sure that student performance on tests is not the basis for negative action against an employee. And they say school systems should not be able to take into account whether a teacher has been deemed “highly qualified” during layoffs or recalls.

In Philadelphia, where the public school system is now run by the state, the teachers union conceded some seniority hiring rights to give the district more options in hiring teachers to staff schools that are marked as low performers under the federal law.

“At every turn in the contract negotiations, the press and demands of No Child Left Behind were always present,” said union spokeswoman Barbara Goodman.

In Warwick, R.I., teachers and the district have been negotiating a contract for three years without success, in part because of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“Any time you add additional duties, teachers expect to be paid, which is reasonable,” said John Thompson, chairman of the school committee in Warwick. “But with pension and health care costs going through the roof, we can’t afford things like higher pay for more work.”

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