City education leaders give input on No Child Left Behind

Sen. Barbara Mikulski hosts roundtable at city school about reauthorization of federal act

March 28, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

More resources in the classroom and less pressure on teachers were among the priorities Baltimore education leaders identified Monday as primary concerns about the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, a highly anticipated task as the federal government looks to revise national education standards.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who was recently appointed to head a critical congressional subcommittee in the reauthorization of the federal program this summer, visited Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School as part of a series of roundtable discussions with school communities across the state to find out how No Child Left Behind has affected student achievement.

"I don't believe all of the wisdom is in Washington," Mikulski said. "Whatever the challenges of large urban districts, they're right here, and they're being met."

Mikulski said she visited Baltimore because it is one of the largest school districts in Maryland and could provide insight in the discussions to overhaul the federal law. In an attempt to close the nation's achievement gap, No Child Left Behind has mandated that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and created stringent standards for "highly qualified" teachers to move districts toward that goal.

Former President George W. Bush signed the federal program, officially known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, into law in 2002. It has long been criticized for its elusive measures of accountability as local districts set annual standardized-test benchmarks — which more schools are failing to reach every year — to meet the goal.

Mikulski said that while she supports national standards, she believes in flexibility at the local level to avoid "burdensome, underfunded mandates on systems."

School officials, parents and Lockerman-Bundy staff told Mikulski — who took notes — that they needed more funding and resources to continue their success. "Being a small school means bits and pieces of money," said Principal Cynthia Cunningham-Evans.

Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, said the district wants more flexibility with funding. Edwards said the district would also like to see revisions to what defines "highly qualified" teachers.

"We'd like to move from rigid standards of qualification to more objective standards of effectiveness," she said.

Neil Ross, who represented the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the emphasis on standardized testing under No Child Left Behind puts a lot of pressure on teachers.

"It's so much pressure, it seems punitive," Ross said, adding that teachers also need more professional development.

Mikulski chose the West Baltimore school because it has seen increased achievement in recent years and has notable partners such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which leads the music program ORCHKids. ORCHKids performed for the senator Monday.

Dan Trahey, director of artistic program development for ORCHKids, told Mikulski that for students to continue thriving, districts need more consistent resources and support. "We can't have Band-Aids when we need preventative medicine," he said.

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