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School officials analyze NCLB reform

February 14, 2012
By Deb Gau , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Local educators and school officials voiced concerns ranging from reform of the No Child Left Behind Act to criticism of federal education mandates during a listening session in Marshall on Monday afternoon.

Members of U.S. Sen. Al Franken's staff were in Marshall to gather input on NCLB reforms.

"The Senate wants to take the bill up on the floor" this year, said Dan Solomon, a field representative for Sen. Franken.

About 20 people, including teachers, Marshall Public School officials and school board members, attended the meeting.

Solomon began the session by summarizing some of the education policies and legislation Franken has supported, including amendments to the NCLB reauthorization bill which passed in October.

The four amendments allow states to use Computer Adaptive Tests to help measure student achievement, address training and recruitment for school principals, allow foster children to stay in their original schools, and clarify that school districts don't have to transfer staff between schools in order to equalize funding between higher and lower income schools.

The amendments are intended to be less punitive to schools, Solomon said. However, Sen. Franken believes that ultimately the NCLB Act will need to be overhauled.

Input given during the meeting extended beyond NCLB, to include issues like rural economic development and technology infrastructure that also affect education.

Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said funding and resources for technology will continue to be a need for rural school districts.

While he appreciated having permission to use computerized tests for assessing students, Willert said, without the infrastructure to make it possible, "It's really kind of a shallow sort of permission."

"What are the chances of special education being fully funded?" asked Marshall School Board member Matt Coleman.

Solomon said Franken believes special education is not being funded at the levels it should. However, he said, "New funding for any initiative is challenging."

Solomon asked the group if they had concerns about student achievement gaps.

With the growth of the Marshall area's immigrant population, educators said improving students' English skills is one challenge to face in closing the gaps. The problem, they said, is that NCLB penalizes schools for failing to meet its requirements instead of acknowledging the progress made by groups like ELL and special education students.

"We are making significant progress," but it's not being recognized, said Darwin Dyce of Southwest/West Central Service Cooperatives.

Marshall School Board Chairman Jeff Chapman warned that achievement gaps couldn't be fixed by legislation, especially when every school is different.

"One umbrella is not going to fit for everyone," Chapman said.

It would be more helpful to give teachers the money or resources they need to work with students, he said. Chapman said unfunded federal mandates are an increasing burden for school districts.



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