School Board asks Lamar for help with NCLB reform

Posted on April 10, 2007

Eagerly pursuing modifications to the federal No Child Left Behind act, the Metro Board of Education yesterday sought help in its efforts from former U.S. Education Secretary and current U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The group met with Alexander to discuss suggestions for changes to NCLB that include creating uniformity from state to state, fully funding the program, and loosening some restrictions. Because each state uses different assessment tests, Director of Schools Pedro Garcia told Alexander it currently is impossible to compare NCLB achievement from state to state. “I think if we had a national norm test… then you could truly compare state to state,” Garcia said. “I think that’s point No. 1 — to have greater conformity so we are all measured by the same exam.” Currently Metro Public Schools uses the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, tests. The first step in changing NCLB to better serve school districts across the country, according to Alexander, is by changing the way the law is discussed and by highlighting the achievements that occur rather than the failures. “In general, on No Child Left Behind, I’m a big believer in catching people doing things right instead of catching people doing things wrong,” he said. “I think the first thing we need to do is change the way we talk about No Child Left Behind. The fact of the matter is, nationally and in Tennessee, about 80 percent of our schools meet our adequate yearly progress. I’d call those high achieving schools.” School board members are making a push for these changes now because NCLB is up for renewal this year — to remain in effect it must be approved by Sept. 30. Board member Steve Glover said he was concerned that because NCLB guidelines are strict, as an unexpected consequence, subgroups of students are labeled as failures when they shouldn’t be. “Let’s not kid ourselves and think that teachers and principals don’t try to figure out a way to get those children out of school or move them around to where they don’t get labeled as failing,” Glover said. “I just wish there was a way, and I don’t know the answer today either, but I wish we could come up with a solution.” Alexander defended the legislation saying the introduction of NCLB has shown a need for greater attention to these smaller subgroups of students. “It seems to me the value of No Child Left Behind, if it has a value, is that it has put the spotlight on some kids that weren’t getting the attention and we all sort of knew it,” he said. The senator went on to suggest Metro Schools develop its own labels for high-achieving schools — or schools that meet yearly progress as designated by NCLB legislation — to avoid labeling schools or students as failures. The board met with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) to discuss NCLB in February.