April 15, 2007
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/178474
U.S. Rep. Raśl Grijalva said Saturday the No Child Left Behind educational law must either be dropped or drastically retooled if it is to serve, and not fail, Arizona students, particularly English-language learners.
"It's become punitive as opposed to what the intent was," said Grijalva, who sits on the House subcommittee that will rewrite the act, giving him considerable pull in how it will fare in the House.
The 2001 law, which is up for reauthorization, requires states to meet federal achievement standards in order to receive federal funding.
Grijalva led a community hearing Saturday on No Child Left Behind at Roskruge Bilingual Middle Magnet and Elementary School. The hearing came two days after the Star reported that 23 Arizona school districts, including Tucson Unified and Sunnyside, have failed to meet those standards for two years in a row.
What will happen to those districts is unclear, but they will have to undergo some form of corrective action such as the withholding of federal funds, replacing employees or removing schools from districts, among other possibilities.
Grijalva has also held roundtables on the law in Nogales and Yuma to gain public feedback.
Saturday's hearing drew about 300 people, mostly educators, who packed the small auditorium at the Downtown middle school.
Most speakers raised concerns about the assessment and testing of English-language learners, who have higher failure and dropout rates than native English speakers.
"We let these kids fail," said attorney Tim Hogan, who has for years represented families of ELL students in an ongoing lawsuit for more state funding for their instruction.
Hogan said those students make up about 15 percent of the state's student population. So, a district that has a higher percentage of the students is more likely not to meet federal standards.
To effectively bring an ELL student to English proficiency, it would cost about $1,600 per student, he said.
"The failure with English learners has to be dealt with," Grijalva said.
Andrew Morrill, vice president of the Arizona Education Association and an English teacher, said he has concerns that the criteria for becoming a teacher is becoming diluted by No Child Left Behind's definition of highly qualified teachers.
Essentially, he said, No Child allows anyone with a college degree to meet that definition without having to go through a traditional certification program.
"We are raising the stakes for student achievement every year, and we are lowering the standards for teachers," he said.
And Jay Stanforth, who teaches third and fourth grades at J. Robert Hendricks Elementary School, said No Child restricts the curriculum he can offer, limiting the tools available to foster learning.
"Under NCLB we have so many standards we are forced to cover," he said.
Stanforth, who has received numerous awards for his teaching, often referred to teaching as his art. And while he said he was upset about how No Child has narrowed the curriculum, he said it has brought a certain level of standards that he supports. He would just like to see more local control over content.
"Rather than a federal law pressuring us that we have to follow, they need to support us in preparing our art as we been trained to do," he said.
● Contact reporter Josh Brodesky at 807-7789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.