Gift to help schools attain passing grade

Monday, February 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:30 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]

The educational gift of $2 million given to MU last week by Harold Hook and Joanne Hunt Hook comes at a crucial time of budget crunches and new achievement standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan group, released the first national comprehensive study of No Child Left Behind, a law that targets closing achievement gaps by penalizing schools failing to meet requirements on standardized tests.

The study discusses what most school districts around the country think are weaknesses in the law — for example, that many educators think the law has set the right goals but fails to contribute the right resources.

The Columbia Public School District and 20 other Missouri public school districts are involved in a program with MU that focuses on a simultaneous education of students and educators. This program will be the main beneficiary at the Hook Center for Educational Leadership and District Renewal, which will be established with $900,000 of the Hooks’ gift.

Richard Andrews, dean of the College of Education at MU, said the simultaneous program involves master’s students in education spending a year learning and teaching in all types of districts all over Missouri.

“This gift gives us the resources to continue our efforts already under way,” Andrews said. “The (simultaneous) program focuses on district leadership to improve student achievement, which in turn will help No Child Left Behind efforts.”

Skip Deming, assistant superintendent for Columbia Public Schools, does not believe the law has caused additional concerns in the district or its budget. He doesn’t think the gift will really affect No Child Left Behind issues in the district.

“We try not to think of No Child Left Behind as separate from everything else,” Deming said. “I see the new funds continuing to support what we’ve always been about.”

According to the study, more than a quarter of the nation’s public schools have not met the federal standards, with possibly thousands of additional schools not meeting standards in the next few years. Among Columbia public schools, 17 of 28 did not meet the federal benchmark.

Andrews said he believes No Child Left Behind is “bad public policy” because the threshold of achievement is different in every state. Missouri has higher achievement standards than the federal level and many state levels, standards that the Missouri legislature is considering lowering.

“Now there is a pressure to lower standards — actually lower present expectations in order to look good,” Andrews said. “That’s just not good for students.”

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