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Congress evaluating No Child Left Behind Act

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Congress is evaluating the No Child Left Behind act. Passed in 2002, it requires that states meet national educational standards or risk losing federal funds. But San Diego Democrat Susan Davis has concerns about how the data for the program is collected. She also questions whether funding for No Child Left Behind will be increased as the law is reauthorized. From Capitol Hill, Terry Gildea has more.

The architects of No Child Left Behind believe one of the best ways to pinpoint learning gaps among students is to separate them into sub-groups. The Department of Education divides children into groups based on their race, economic background, ability to speak English, and whether they have any learning disabilities.

California mandates that at least 100 students must be included in any one sub-group. Gino Flores is Deputy Superintendent for San Diego City Schools. He says administrators and educators have a hand in assessing each school.

Flores: "So that the data on each of the subgroups is analyzed by each of the school district officials in addition with the community participants, the parents who are part of the school's high council and decisions are made about allocating the dollars to those students."

Sub-group data is then processed to determine whether schools are meeting adequate yearly progress or AYP - the statistical benchmark of No Child Left Behind. Before Susan Davis was elected to Congress, she served on the San Diego City School Board in the eighties and nineties. Now she sits on the House Education Committee where a hearing was recently held to examine the use of sub-group data in assessing AYP scores. Davis supports the system, but she says there are flaws in how the data is collected.

Davis: "And so it was determined that they don't count students if they come in mid year or even if they come in 3 quarters of the year. I think that's something we should address."

Despite issues with how the data is gathered, San Diego City Schools are using No Child Left Behind and the state Public Schools Accountability Act to pinpoint learning gaps in the classroom. Among sub-group data determined by race, African American and Hispanic are scoring at the lowest rate of proficiency in San Diego City Schools. And only 30 percent of children from economically challenged households are performing at acceptable levels.

Republican California Congressman Buck McKeon chairs the House Education Committee. He says standards help make everyone in a school district more accountable.

Mc Keon: "For ever teachers have had the ability to test and to talk to and work with children to know where they are the problem is the superintendents don't know or the department back here or the people that are sending the money out there that are supposed to be helping are not able to find out."

AYP statistics are then used to determine what schools need corrective action. But Susan Davis says the financial burden for testing and improving schools falls unfairly on the state and the district.

Davis: "The reason we were very supportive of the no child left behind is that it was an opportunity for the school districts to be provided the funding for some of this testing some of that did not materialize and so in fact it falls back on the school districts, on the state as they are making their decisions about where they want to put their resources, and in this case they don't have a lot of choice."

But Buck McKeon says the program will be reauthorized by Congress at the proper funding level.

McKeon: "If you look at how much money has gone into funding education, both at the higher level and at the k-12 level, since we've won the majority in 94, we've doubled what the democrats did previously."

Currently the law only measures achievement levels in reading and mathematics, but a provision calls for expanding science education. Flores says San Diego schools will require additional dollars to meet this goal.

Flores: Science is a much more expensive subject matter. You need equipment and you need classrooms that are designed for that kind of experimentation. The demands of the no child left behind increases the science education for all students means that there is an additional demand and expectations.

Congress will continue to evaluate No Child Left Behind over the next six months. It remains to be seen if they will change the program so states have more funding to pinpoint and teach the children most in need. From Capitol Hill, Terry Gildea, KPBS News.

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