NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND LAUDED
March 5, 2004
by Susan Snyder and Walter F. Naedele
CHIEF EXEC. OF PHILLY'S SCHOOLS
TESTIFIES IN SUPPORT OF CONTROVERSIAL LAW
Philadelphia School District head
Paul Vallas yesterday told a U.S. Senate panel that he supports the federal No
Child Left Behind law, legislation that has been maligned by other school
administrators in the state.
Vallas told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and
Human Services, and Education that the law rightly aims to close the achievement
gap between majority and minority groups, and sets high expectations for all
But the regulations covering special-education students and
limited-English-proficiency students should be modified, and federal funding for
the law should be increased, he said.
"Sure, it's not perfect," Vallas said after his testimony. But "we've been
crying for a larger role from the federal government in education. Now we've
got it. Let's make it work."
Vallas was one of seven Pennsylvania education officials and community activists
called to Washington to testify before the committee, chaired by Sen. Arlen
Specter (R., Pa.).
Several others, including James R. Scanlon, superintendent of the Quakertown
Community School District in Bucks County, and James R. Weaver, president of the
Pennsylvania State Education Association, criticized the law.
Specter said yesterday that he invited the Pennsylvania contingent after
learning of Monday's meeting at Norristown High School, where 138 Pennsylvania
superintendents complained about the law. The administrators concluded that the
law - which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement - places too
much priority on testing and sets unrealistic goals.
The administrators called for better funding and asked that special-education
students be exempt from taking the mandated tests and that testing of students
with limited English skills be delayed.
The criticism in Pennsylvania is not unusual. The law has elicited a groundswell
of protest in some states and has become a flash point for candidates in the
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige went before the Senate panel yesterday to
discuss the law, and Specter said he wanted Paige to hear the criticisms of the
Pennsylvania superintendents as well as the views of Vallas, who heads the
state's largest school district, with 200,000 students.
After hearing the testimony, Specter said the law needed modifications.
Special-education and limited-English students should not be held to the same
standards, he said: "We need more flexibility."
Among the others testifying were Marie Slobojan, director of instruction, staff
development and planning for the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District in Chester
County; C. Dolores Tucker, president of the Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr.
Association for Non-Violent Change and chair of the National Congress of Black
Women; Melissa Jamula, superintendent of the Reading School District; and Samuel
Evans, a Philadelphia civil-rights activist and founder of the American
Foundation for Negro Affairs.
The hearing comes as the subcommittee considers the proposed 2004-05 budget
funding for No Child Left Behind. The Bush administration has asked for a 1.9
percent, or $463 million, increase in funding for the act, increasing the total
appropriation to $24.7 billion.
Specter said he thought the increase was reasonable. Scanlon, the Quakertown
superintendent, called the law "destructive."
"It disregards the amount of
time, funding and resources [needed] to meet the requirements in the law," he
told the senators.
He said he was speaking for the superintendents who met in Norristown. They
represent more than a fourth of the 500 districts in the state, with more than a
third of the state's 1.8 million students.
Vallas disagreed. "I don't mind testing," he said, "as long as that test is
testing children on state-required standards."
Vallas said Philadelphia had strived to meet the law's requirements. It has
expanded school-choice options, added more rigorous high school courses,
instituted after-school and summer-school programs for struggling students, and
tried to recruit highly qualified teachers.
"I support the objectives of the act," he said, "the existence of the act, and
the accountability that the act brings to all of us."