Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lampson On A Learning Curve With NCLB

Congressman Nick Lampson of Texas’ CD 22 had a town hall meeting yesterday (10/29) specifically directed at the upcoming reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I didn’t get anything in the mail on this but a friend told me about it. It was held at the Fort Bend County ISD Annex in Sugar Land. This is the building that Fort Bend ISD bought from ex FBISD Superintendent Don Hooper’s church for a cool $4 million.

Nick wasn’t there alone, well he had his staffers with him, but I’m talking about his friend and colleague George Miller (D-CA-07). Congressman Miller was sitting in his office in DC, but he was also projected on a 10-foot wide screen courtesy of FBISD’s IT department. They have the best stuff.

Nick came with Congressman Miller, because despite the fact that Lampson is himself a former teacher, he is on a learning curve vis-à-vis NCLB. Rep. Miller was one of those who wrote the original legislation in 2002. He is at the forefront of re-writing NCLB. So what the audience did was ask their NCLB questions at the screen, and got their answers out of a speaker.

Basically the rewriting of NCLB is going to entail these goals, not necessarily in order of presentation, because we were all over the page all evening:

a) Improve teacher quality
b) Improve funding
c) Change the growth model

Teacher Quality. Implicit in NCLB is that teachers and administrators need to fully support NCLB or it’s not going to work. That’s a no-brainer. The first thing teachers and administrators did when NCLB was rammed down their throats was find ways to game the system.

A new NCLB, Miller says, is to include promoting teacher quality by providing more support, mentorship, of new teachers, higher pay to encourage more qualified people to, or back to, the teaching profession, and my big bug-a-boo, pay for performance. I’ll not go on a rant about why this last thing is such a singularly bad idea, you can read it all here. A new definition of Highly Qualified Teacher is not in the legislation, but a new definition of Effective Teacher is. Now, it is based on standardized test scores. There seem to be plans to alter that model where the teacher is rated by how much their students improve. At least that is what I thought I was hearing.

Improve Funding. This is what got the audience riled up. To-date the feds have funded their mandate to the tune of $2.2 billion. That’s $55 billion short of what was promised to this point. Steve Smelley, FBISD Trustee was in the audience, and all you could get out of him was outrage about how they have only received 1% of what was promised.

Lampson, and Miller for that matter, were adamant that they were also outraged at this and wanted full funding of NCLB. Miller cautioned the audience that he was hearing that Bush did not want to sign a bill that had funding for children in it.

Does that surprise you?

So there is a chance that we are going to see another bill for children vetoed by Bush because he wants the money to go to Iraq and Blackwater.

Growth Model. Currently the same grade is evaluated on standardized tests and improvement is documented when the next year’s crop of 1st graders score better on the test than the previous year’s. Patently ridiculous. As Miller says, that’s like comparing apples to oranges, as every class is different.

No argument there.

The new bill proposes a paradigm shift from assessing successive classes to assessing the improvement of classes as they progress through the grades. That works for me. Especially because, as one teacher in the audience suggested, what we will see is continual improvement in grades 1-5 then a serious retrogression in grades 6-8, then renewed progress in 9-12.

Also, no more high stakes testing.

Schools will no longer be rated based on test scores, but on a variety of criteria: does the school offer AP courses, college prep, what is the graduation/dropout rate. Also there will be a concerted effort to make sure that schools focus on all sub-populations, not just the brightest or the dimmest.

There were also a significant number of attendees from Special Education. Their woes left my head shaking and Nick acted, and I’m sure it was not an act, as if this was the first time he had heard of this. It’s really complicated, but let’s just say that NCLB allows only 3% of a school’s student population to take alternative tests to the standardized tests. That’s all well and good, but if 15% of the school’s students are in the Special Ed program, the schools are not going to make AYP, ever.

Nick very candidly admitted that he first started teaching in 1967 and things like this were unheard of back then.

Toward the end of the meeting, Nick urged audience members to form a task force to thresh out these issues and give him a chance to listen to what they come up with. He very genuinely wanted input from the community.

As I said, Nick seems to be on a learning curve and needs those on the front lines to tell him about what’s going on. I’m not one of those, although I do have my opinions. I’d rather bow to more experienced teachers, experienced effective teachers. Like those seen in this You Tube embedded video filmed at a symposium of state teachers of the year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nick Lampson is genuinely concerned for his constituents. I first met hime when I lived in Port Arthur diring his first congressional campaign that ousted the do-nothing waste of space Steve Stockman.

I'm glad He found a way back into public service and kept Tom DeLay out of Congress to boot.