Candidates for the Columbia Board of Education discussed several issues relating to the No Child Left Behind Act at a forum Monday at Hickman High School.
The Columbia Council Parent Teacher Association and the Columbia Community Teachers Association sponsored the event, asking each candidate to respond to seven questions. Three of the questions centered on No Child Left Behind, the federal education policy that sets yearly performance standards for students nationwide.
Asked how they would support the federal act within the school district, candidates said communication with and involvement of the community is crucial.
“No Child Left Behind means parents have to get involved, teachers have to get involved and students have to get involved,” incumbent David Ballenger said.
Ballenger has served 10 years on the board. He said funding needs to be rearranged.
Arch Brooks, a challenger in the race, said he’s concerned about the board’s reaction to the federal act.
“It’s absurd and ridiculous that something like No Child Left Behind should throw the district into a tizzy,” he said.
Rhonda Garland, another candidate, said she would lobby at the state level to support the act and get more information explaining the legislation to parents.
Candidate Mike Martin, a science journalist, also said making the law more understandable is the key.
“It’s critically important that parents and families be involved in No Child Left Behind,” he said.
Darin Preis, who has worked with the Missouri Head Start system for 10 years, said supporting the act will be easier with more early education programming.
Another question asked candidates to consider what policies they would implement to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards mandated under NCLB.
Ballenger said the board does not have a clear-cut answer to this problem but that communication and community support are needed to meet those goals.
Don Ludwig, a current board member, agreed and said that schools need to get creative in finding programs that work. He said options might include longer school days and smaller classrooms .
The most important thing is for parents to be educated and to have a complete understanding of what the federal act means for their children, Garland said.
Martin said helping students on an individual basis will help to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals.
Preis said it’s time to find out what programs are working and to implement those district wide to increase the percentage of students that meet the measures.
The issue of closing the achievement gap in test scores between different groups of students also arose at the forum. Candidates were asked to explain how these disparities could be diminished.
Most candidates said parent involvement, home-school communication and teacher accountability would lessen the gap.
Brooks, however, said the problem is more complicated.
“Minority staff is being diminished,” he said, adding that minority staff is not being hired back.
Monday’s meeting was the first forum for school board candidates. Several more meetings are planned before the April 5 election.