Goleta Valley Voice, Dec. 3, 2004

Teachers confront 'No Child Left Behind'

By Margo Kline, Voice Associate Editor

discussion of NCLB at Goleta libraryNo Child Left Behind — the Bush Administration’s education initiative — is under study by local teachers, determined both to understand it and to mitigate any negative impact.

Faced with a federal policy that has elicited complaints nationwide ranging from dismay to outrage, the teachers have decided to meet the challenge by forming a book club.

Marianne D’Emidio-Caston, an Antioch University education specialist, placed chairs in a circle Monday night in the large meeting room of the Goleta Library. She was preparing for a gathering of concerned teachers and teaching students, to explore the ramifications of "No Child."

The book club, and a similar group at the downtown Santa Barbara Public Library, are sponsored by the Santa Barbara Progressive Education Alliance. The book they will read and discuss is "America’s ‘Failing’ Schools," by W. James Popham.

One teacher who is taking part in the Goleta club, and who asked that her name not be used, said Popham’s book goes into possible unintended consequences of the "No Child" legislation.

"One of the things teachers are very concerned about is that we are working in ‘failing’ schools, not meeting the annual yearly progress goals," she said. "The feeling is we’re not doing our jobs. Test scores have to show you’ve made certain progress. If not, your school can become a ‘failure’ — one Isla Vista school has already done that."

Isla Vista Elementary has been labeled a "Program Improvement School" — ie., a failure — which means its students did not match the requirements for test results. Under the legislation’s terms, parents of children in such a school can request that their children attend another school.

The teacher requesting anonymity belongs to the National Teachers Policy Institute, and exchanges views with other teachers on the Internet. "For teachers, there is a lot of stress to try to meet all these standards, so children are going to be able to perform," she said. "Teachers have a lot of anxiety. Teachers are working so hard. If kids don’t know the language, it’s very complicated. It’s not a simple equation."

Three Isla Vista families did request that their children be reassigned to other elementary schools.

Dan Cooperman, Goleta Union School District assistant superintendent for instructional services, said Tuesday that the removal of the students necessitates busing them out of their area, which in turn costs the district money.

"The law requires that a district has to set aside 20 percent of its funding to accommodate these transportation needs if necessary," Cooperman said. In the case of the three Isla Vista students, their transportation will cost nowhere near that amount. But the district receives about $440,000 in federal funds, and 20 percent — $88,000 — would have to be made available if enough parents decided to transfer their children out of the school, Cooperman said.

D’Emidio-Caston, Antioch’s liaison to the book club, said the group’s aim is to sign up and support teachers with program experience and student-centered values, "from Santa Ynez to Ventura."

"We’re going to look at accountability measures to determine whether the law will help or harm children," D’Emidio-Caston said. "The question is whether this burden is realistic or an unattainable goal. Do the authors believe these kids will all achieve the standard in the same amount of time? We need to be informed. We’re dealing with kids whose English is a second language, immigrant kids, special needs kids. So many teachers are upset and they’re not speaking out."

She said Antioch has become involved in promoting the book clubs as "part of our mission to share some of what we know about how kids learn. All teachers are invited to come, and we’re hoping parents will come, too."

Eight teachers attended Monday’s meeting and D’Emidio-Caston said there definitely is room for more. After a hiatus for the holidays, the club will resume meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Goleta Library.

Photos by Ryan Witt/Brooks Institute
Caption: Antioch University’s Marianne D’Emidio-Caston conducts a meeting of the new book club at Goleta Library, exploring federal laws for schools.

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