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Columbia Missourian

Panelists dissatisfied with No Child Left Behind Act

By JAKE SIEGEL
November 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST

 The No Child Left Behind Act was put to the test Tuesday night, and it doesn’t look like it passed.

The 2001 legislation was the subject of this fall’s second Hickman High School Speak Your Mind Forum. Five panelists weighed the merits, and put even more emphasis on the shortcomings of the act in front of about 200 Hickman students. Panelist Laurie Spate-Smith managed to sum up the legislation in just one word: perverse.

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Spate-Smith, president of the Columbia chapter of the National Education Association, was joined by Mike Alexander, the director of federal instructional improvement for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; Karla DeSpain, the president of the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education; Peggy Placier, a faculty member in MU’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis; and Tim Parshall, assistant director of the Assessment Resource Center at MU.

At the forum, panelists agreed that one of the more contentious aspects of the act is the designation of “highly qualified teachers.” While DeSpain noted that the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom is a good thing, Spate-Smith pointed out that the definition needs revision.

“300 teachers in Columbia received letters saying you’re not highly qualified under the No Child Left Behind Act,” Spate-Smith said. “Most of them had master’s degrees.” One Hickman student in the audience added that his mother, a longtime Advanced Placement teacher in Columbia, was part of that group.

In Alexander’s discussion of the history of federal legislation on education since 1964, he mentioned that the No Child Left Behind Act differs from previous acts on the issue of accountability, another criticism the panelists found with the act.

The lack of consistency among and within states on tests and scoring is a problem, according to DeSpain.

“There’s a lack of recognition for growth. This model works from punishment rather than being helpful,” she said.

Parshall noted that the federal government is trying to address the issue of consistency and the lack of recognition for growth. But the prospect of a stronger role for the federal government raised another central question for Placier: “Be careful what you wish for.” The federal government doesn’t have power over schools, states do, she said. They don’t have the power to force consistency on states, and she’s not sure if she wants them to.

On the issue of consistency, two Hickman sophomores — Stephany Cox, 15, and Samantha Harris, 15 — had a unique perspective. Each relocated to Columbia from Louisiana within the last two years, and they said the more rigorous curriculum came as a surprise.

“It fooled me, I thought I was a genius,” Harris said.