Schools hit No Child Left Behind for failure labeling

? State Rep. Yarbrough and Cong. Davis convene a summit with local superintendents to discuss the challenges they're facing.

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By CARL NYBERG

Public school superintendents from three townships?#34;Oak Park, River Forest and Proviso?#34;met Monday afternoon with State Representative Karen Yarbrough and U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis at Roosevelt Junior High School in Bellwood to discuss the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), funding frustrations and other problems and challenges facing school districts.

Yarbrough also invited Nicole Wills of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Bindu Batchu of A+ Illinois, an organization that works to increase the state's contribution to education funding. The last time Yarbrough and Davis gathered the superintendents was over a year ago.

With the exception of Marlene Kamm, superintendent of River Forest elementary schools (District 90), and Chris Welch, president of the Proviso Township High Schools board (District 209), all the superintendents criticized NCLB. (Welch spoke for Proviso High Schools, because the superintendent could not attend.) They complained some about the lack of funding, but mostly were offended by the punitive labeling of schools and objected to the added bureaucratic requirements.

Myra Sanders, superintendent of Westchester elementary schools, complained about evaluating subgroups that were so small, a few low scores could cause the subgroup to be labeled negatively and stigmatize the entire school. Another superintendent objected to the shaming aspect of NCLB?#34;for example requiring schools to send letters home saying the student's teacher is "not highly qualified."

Numerous superintendents expressed skepticism about the motives of the Bush administration. Cynthia Broughton of District 89 (Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview) said the intent of NCLB was to build support for school vouchers. She likened what she called Bush propaganda about the NCLB to the deceptions used to justify the Iraq war.

Kamm stated River Forest schools "had in place assessment methods before they were required" and offered to help other districts develop them. Randolph Tinder, superintendent of Forest Park schools, complained about how the law handles homeless students. The definition of homelessness is too expansive, he said, and schools cannot challenge claims of homelessness. He particularly objected to students living with extended family being categorized as homeless.

Davis said he passed two amendments to the Headstart bill. One increased male instructors. The other "strengthened the inclusion of culture as part of the curriculum." He acknowledged losing the fight to fully fund Headstart.

Davis also had funds authorized to recruit more math and science teachers. And Davis amended the Individuals with Disabilities Act to require "school districts to report disproportionate representation of population groups placed in special education."

Davis is concerned African-American boys are disproportionately, and sometimes inappropriately, placed in special education. Davis warned the superintendents not to expect more federal money for education. He quoted his father back on the farm in Arkansas who would tell his son, "pray for a good harvest but keep hoeing."

Wills, the ISBE representative, was not prepared to respond to specific questions from the superintendents, who criticized ISBE as being inconsistent, bureaucratic and error-prone and slow in handling teacher certification applications. Wills insisted there has been no "massive restructuring" of ISBE and everyone who has left the agency has done so due to retirement.

Batchu made the case for increasing the amount of state money devoted to education. She said with the state paying 36 percent, Illinois ranked 48th among states in its contribution to education funding. She said the extra education money in Governor Rod Blagojevich's budget was only a $2-per-student increase after taking inflation into account.

A+ Illinois is pushing HB750 to shift the tax burden from property tax to income tax and applying the sales tax to services. Batchu claimed the education component of property taxes would be reduced by at least 20 percent across the state. Education accounts for about 2/3 of local property taxes.

Yarbrough is a co-sponsor of HB750. She said, "I don't know if it's the solution, but we've got to do something." She also expressed her support for eliminating the office of township school treasurer.

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