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AN AGGIE LINE: USU cheerleaders perform during the Aggies' final exhibition game. It's time to cheer for basketball. / Photo by Brianna Mortensen

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q&A with Ed Bradley:

Q: What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
A: Foreign news.

Q: Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A: When I first started in New York at WCBS radio, the assignment editor automatically assigned any story that had a minority in it to me. I objected to being typecast and told him if I didn't get a variety of stories -- as other reporters did -- then I would take it up with the news director.

Q: If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A: If I had the talent, I'd play bass guitar and sing in a kicking band.

--Ed Bradley, reporter, "60 Minutes," died yesterday of leukemia at age 65 (2006)

No Child Left Behind needs to refocus priorities

By C. D Clawson

October 16, 2006 | America's teachers face many challenges in their profession. In their hands lies the future not only of a generation, but also that of a nation. These men and women overcome incredible obstacles on a daily basis: learning disabilities, helping students to learn English as a second language, and preparing our children to make the toughest decisions of their lives.

Valley teachers face yet another trial in education on both the local and national levels: the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This legislation, promoted by the Bush administration and passed by Congress in 2001, was provided as an answer to struggling students, especially minority and lower-income students, when in fact NCLB was actually passed at their cost as well as the cost of teachers and taxpayers.

A 2003 Gallup poll showed that three-fourths of Americans did not know enough about the act to form an opinion on the matter. Although knowledge of NCLB has increased slightly it is necessary to understand its effects upon us and our children. The act emphasizes accountability of students, teachers, and administrators.

NCLB's main goal: that all students have adequate language arts and math skills by the year 2014 regardless of race, disability, or household income. Annual yearly progress (AYP) is measured through standardized testing and evaluated against a set of goals developed in order to reach this overall objective.

Yet there is one problem: this goal is not realistic. NCLB has good intentions, but in now creating new problems in the education world. Further refinement or new legislation is necessary so that our nation's children, especially minorities, are not left behind.

Schools, locally and nationally, have accomplished AYP for the most part; however, many are passing only by slim margins. A pattern is emerging. In the 2005-06 school year, 18 percent of Utah schools failed to meet AYP as compared to 13 percent in the 2004-05 school year. Education professionals predict that most schools will soon reach a breaking point at which they can no longer keep up with the projected AYP goals.

Surprisingly, schools that do not achieve AYP are faced with the possibility of losing resources rather than gaining them. Among these schools is Caches County's Mountain Crest High School, which now faces the possibility of losing funding, having failed to meet AYP for three years in a row. Schools succeeding to meet AYP are rewarded -- schools which already have necessary funding.

Funding based upon these requirements will inevitably result in fewer resources and a tumbling quality of education in our public schools. How can higher performance be expected of a school with fewer resources? Schools facing problems with meeting AYP should receive extra support to be truly effective.

Local schools face other challenges to reach AYP. NCLB seeks the progress of minority, disabled, and lower-income students and requires that schools meet AYP for each of these groups. Should a single group fail to meet the standard, the entire school fails. These requirements have good intentions, but again, are completely unrealistic, and oftentimes place bureaucracy over the students' needs.

To meet yearly progress requirements, all immigrant and minority students as well as students with special needs must have adequate math and language arts skills by the year 2014. These too are near impossible standards. Disabled students, including those with special needs, are also tested and expected to meet AYP. Teachers are working especially hard integrating students with special needs varying from autism to Down syndrome. Special education students attending Amelia Earhart Elementary in Provo did not test well in 2005, and as a result of AYP standards the school failed.

Recent federal provisions for disabled students allowing alternative testing and modified achievement standards are provided for. However, disabled students are required to fail tests two years in a row before even being considered for alternative testing ad modified achievement standards. Such policies have adverse effects on students and their progress.

Considerations should be made to ensure accommodations for each student based upon his or her needs. NCLB also aims to bridge the "achievement gap," a gap in math and reading skills existing between minority groups and non-minority groups. Utah's growing minority population poses a real challenge to Utah's teachers. Lately teachers have bolstered their efforts to help prepare minority students for these tests. However, testing for students with difficulties in English has not been adapted nor implemented in most states, including Utah. NCLB provides for students who speak another language have the option to be tested in their primary language. Again, students' individual needs should always come first.

NCLB presents problems not only for Utah's teachers and students, but also for Utah's taxpayers and legislators. Many consider the federal act an intrusion on states' rights. NCLB is what is known as an unfunded mandate. When passed in 2001, NCLB demanded more resources, higher standards, and standardized testing; however, it allocated almost no necessary funding to implement and sustain these changes. By doing so, the state of Utah and its taxpayers were left to pay for these costly changes.

In early 2005, a controversial bill was passed stating that "unless and until" additional funds are provided, Utah should continue with its own "proven system." Weeks later, on May 3, 2005, Gov. Jon Huntsman signed into law a bill reconsidering the extent of some of NCLB's national standards allowing Utah's school districts to ignore certain provisions of the law in favor of their own emphases.

It is necessary that legislators in Washington review the progress of NCLB. Certain aspects of NCLB need to be refined in order to become a thriving and effective system benefiting students, teachers, and administrators across the nation. Struggling schools should not be faced with the threat of losing funding because of unmet projections. It is essential that changes be made to individually accommodate students including those with disabilities and with difficulties in English. All of these changes are necessary so that teachers can continue to have that life-changing impact on students' lives.

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