Education Chat

Improving No Child Left Behind: A Local Perspective

Our readers had a discussion with our guests from Rockland County, N.Y., which examined the federal education law's impact on eight local school districts and offered its own vision for renewing the law.

Feb. 8, 2007

Improving No Child Left Behind: A Local Perspective

Guests: Harriet Cornell, chairwoman of the Rockland County legislature; and David M. Fried, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, East Ramapo Central School District.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat to talk about ideas for improving the No Child Left Behind Act.

Our guests today are from Rockland County, N.Y., which took a hard look at the federal education law’s impact on eight local school districts and determined that changes are needed. This may be the only such communitywide effort in the United States to closely study the lengthy law and recommend detailed changes to it.

We have many questions waiting to be answered, so let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Bob Frangione, Bucknell University:
Based on what has occurred so far, what in the current law is working and what is not? What are the advantages /disadvantages of renewing. reforming the law?

Harriet Cornell:
Let me put it this way. The goals are great. Some things are working well. Some things could work well with revisions. Some things don’t belong there at all. And we talk about all of these things in our 72-page report. In a nutshell: Positive attributes of NCLB include the requirement to disaggregate data which has helped focus attention on children who may traditionally have fallen through the cracks; placing elimination of the achievement gap on the national agenda; identifying gaps and requiring us to look at all children; insisting upon strong learning standards. Although New York has had excellent learning standards since 1994, some other states were without such standards, so the emphasis on strong learning standards is very positive. NCLB has further stimulated an important dialogue about educational standards in the United States.

We are concerned, however, that the formulas for determining proficiency are complex and sometimes unreliable, and we cite a number of examples in our report where the difference between a passing and failing school can come down to the performance of one or two children. We are saddened that the law’s exam-centered focus is leading to the diminution of experiential learning opportunities and may be taking the joy out of learning. We are frustrated that 34% of the federal funds promised nationally over the first five years of NCLB was not forthcoming. What we call the “heart and soul” expenditures which had been enthusiastically endorsed by Congress, such as smaller class size, new and revised curricula, after-school, weekend and summer school programs, have had to compete with mandated costs to implement NCLB’s tremendous data collection and reporting requirements.

In New York State, another very expensive component is the cost associated with scoring the exams. We go into this in detail in our report which explains the cost of substitute teachers, the loss of instructional time and more.

We believe that the punitive nature of the law and the destructive consequences of placing unrealistic and under-funded mandates on struggling schools is creating a Catch-22, making it increasingly difficult for many under-performing schools to attain the level of Adequate Yearly Progress required under NCLB.

Harriet Cornell:
ROCKLAND’S VOICES: MAKING THE CASE FOR AMENDING THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT OF 2002 can be accessed at the following web address:

Question from Philip Kovacs, Chair, Educator Roundtable:
What would schools look like if teachers weren’t behind closed doors driving their children towards higher test scores, ignoring the skills, capacities, and dreams that make them human in the first place? What would our country and the world look like?

Harriet Cornell:
. Schools might look like the eight school districts and BOCES in our county which entered a partnership 11 years ago with families, public and private agencies, and community organizations all working together to help children reach their optimal development. This is a formal collaboration known informally as Rockland 21C.

Higher test scores should not be the dreams of children. They should be dreaming of inventions, adventures and far-away places. They should be playing. They should be learning to unlock the secrets of the world through books and study and questions and experiences. Teachers should be able to use their creativity to excite children about learning, as good teachers do every day and some of our teachers did recently by taking a virtual trip to Cooperstown, NY to learn how to use baseball statistics in teaching math. I am not a teacher but I still remember how my third grade friends and I would argue about which one of us would be Miss Sheard, our teacher, when we played school. Of course we should have high standards and accountability, but there should be flexibility and assistance where now under NCLB there is a one-size fits all approach and punitive measures.

Question from Patricia Bratel, Asst. Superintendent in Wisconsin:
Where is the emphasis on writing in NCLB? I believe it is a crime to focus so narrowly on reading and math to the perile of other important skills.

David M. Fried:
The NCLB legislation states that students will be tested in mathematics and language arts. It is my understanding that the Department of Education allows states to use reading tests to assess language arts. I agree with you that this could tend to narrow the instructional focus and push writing instruction to the “back burner.” As you know, the best literacy instruction tightly integrates reading and writing. Summative language arts assessments should reflect that integration.

New York State’s English language arts tests in grades 4 and 8 require students to write essays based on multiple texts on the same topic. New York’s high school English exam, given over two days, requires much writing of a varied nature. It is important to note that New York’s learning standards and the assessments based on them were in place long before NCLB.

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student , Penn:
How does NCLB affect the community of trust in the school between teachers and school leaders?

David M. Fried:
The over-emphasis on testing that NCLB fosters is a powerful, anxiety-producing force that has a real tendency to reshape classrooms into “test prep factories.” It takes strong district and school leadership to consistently communicate to teachers that we expect and need them to teach to the curriculum and not to the test, that we trust that the test results will be fine if teachers provide exciting, high level instruction based on accepted learning standards. Good school leaders know what is happening in every classroom in the school, and they correctly do not base their supervision of teachers on the results of one or two summative tests. It is a shame that our current federal education law is based on a lack of trust and punishment, on testing to identify “failure” rather than specific strengths and weaknesses. Our school leaders must work hard to ensure that the federal lack of trust does not trickle down to affect the culture of their schools.

Question from Layla Wright-Contreras, Manager,
If “about one-fifth of Rockland’s 293,000 residents are immigrants,” what measures are being planned to ensure the success of English language learners?

David M. Fried:
The large majority of English language learners in Rockland County are enrolled in three of the eight public school districts in the county. All three districts have excellent English as a Second Language programs. My district, East Ramapo, has always invested significant dollars and attention to its ESL programs. (Every June, large numbers of our highest ranking high school graduates are former ESL students.) Recently, at the middle school and high school levels, special courses have been created specifically for students who arrive in the United States with interrupted schooling in their home countries. Often, these young people have poor literacy skills in their native languages, compounding their ability to become literate in the second language. Unfortunately, the New York English as a Second Language Test (NYSESLAT), which we give to assess literacy development in the second language, was just deemed inappropriate for NCLB testing by the U.S. Department of Education. A few weeks ago, we had to give all our second and third year ESL students the same English language arts test that all other 3rd through 8th graders take. There is no doubt that this will cause the eight schools in East Ramapo that house ESL programs to not make AYP for 06-07. My hat goes off to those courageous school districts in Virginia who have decided to stand up to the DOE on this issue.

Question from Dr. Anne Cothran, Director, District 201, Illinois:
I agree with your premise regarding appropriate assessment. However, based on what we have seen thus far in NCLB, I find it difficult to think they will accept results that are not NAEP verified. In your opinion, what will it take to convince the government that individualized assessment is the most crucial?

Harriet Cornell:
I think all those who have concerns regarding the current assessment methodology need to let their US representatives know. Sadly, the language we are currently hearing from the Administration indicates that they do not see the need to alter assessments of our children’s capabilities to recognize individual strengths and challenges.

Beyond individual academic abilities, NCLB does not consider how factors such as family stress, poverty, poor health, and limited resources can impact student success. If the achievement gap is to be eliminated, government and the community must play a role. Schools and teachers should not be held accountable, and penalized, for factors which they cannot control.

I think the way the only way that the government will be convinced is if parents, teachers, administrators and all those on the front lines of our children’s education let our representatives know that rubber stamping the existing legislation is an endorsement of mass produced education. Requiring that all schools and all children within these schools reach the same standards at the same time is unrealistic at best and destructive at worst.

Question from Michael Winn, Undergraduate, University of Virginia (
How important is it for taxpayers, students, and teachers to SEE tests - not just scores; but the questions and answers - and compare test blueprints with standards, curriculum, classroom instruction, and reasons students answered the questions the way they did?

David M. Fried:
What you are suggesting is very important if the tests are to be used for educational purposes. In NYS, all of the NCLB tests are completely available to the public once the testing period is over. Unfortunately, this is not so in many tests, where the tests are secure instruments. In most NY school districts, we produce item analyses of each test, informing teachers of the test tasks that students did well or not so well on. We also are able to give question-by-question reports to teachers as to how individual students did on specific testing objectives. As you know, NCLB does not require this instructional use of testing. The NCLB legislation calls for testing solely for accountability purposes. It is up to individual states to do more.

Question from Mary Surbeck- Oklahoma City Community Foundation Program coordinator:
In this region, the topic of conversation is teaching to the test. I am a former teacher and my colleagues often speak of “real teaching” as opposed to “test prep.” The stress they feel when they address a topic that is not a part of a lesson plan but has real relevance to the class impacts morale and energy. Do you hear those comments from your teachers?

David M. Fried:
Yes, there is real pressure on teachers, principals and superintendents to get good test results. Therefore, we have to constantly fight against the thinking that “test prep” drilling in place of curriculum-based, constructivist teaching will produce better test results and higher achievement. It is not an easy battle; it is up to principals and superintendents to consistently reinforce for teachers that our best teaching methods should not be changed just because of misguided federal legislation.

Question from Dr. Dianne Buhr, Educational Consultant, Florida:
One of the least successful components of NCLB has been the requirement to have equal percentages of “highly qualified” teachers in high and low poverty schools. Are there successful models for recruiting and retaining the best teachers for high poverty schools?

Harriet Cornell:
NCLB mandated that 100% of teachers were to be highly qualified in core subjects by the end of the 2005/06 school year. However, in May 2006 the U. S. Department of Education said that not a single state would be able to meet this requirement. We believe the mandate is ill-defined and can be harmful to poorer school districts. David Fried, who is a key member of the team which studied NCLB in Rockland (and is answering questions today as well) spent most of his career as an educator in high poverty schools. His experience was that when there is an excellent principal who has worked with staff to create a successful culture for learning, teacher retention is not much of a problem. In other words, good leadership can overcome the challenges of poverty with regard to teacher retention. We have heard of school districts in Rochester, NY, and Nashville or Memphis, TN where the Board of Education, Superintendent and Teachers’ Union have collaborated to devise a plan of incentives to have strong, experienced teachers transfer into the most challenging schools. These may provide the good models you asked about with regard to recruitment and retention.

Question from John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee - Worcester Public Schools:
When are we going to have the needed funding to implement the mandated programs for NCLB? Will the emphasis in the future by the positive or will it still emphasize consequences for inner-city schools that don’t meet AYP?

Harriet Cornell:
I wish I had the answer to when the promised funding will be forthcoming. Certainly that issue is of prime importance to our schools, particularly bedcause of the additional mandated costs I described in another answer. Our team will be emphasizing the importance of the funding, as well as the need for revisions that will reflect how children learn, how somed flexibility needs to be allowed.

Question from Mary Musielewicz (mew-sah-LEV-ich) Teacher, Century H.S., Rochester Minn.:
Why does the federal government persist in emotionally breaking students who cannot test with average to above average students? I’m talking about the emotional toll of repeated “failures” by children who do not speak English or who have cognitive disabilities. The children and their schools are unfairly labeled as failures. How does that help society? Why can’t there be a short version of accountability tests, a five or ten-minute version that proves to the government that someone is unable to perform?

Harriet Cornell:
Your question calls to mind a letter recently written by school administrators in Rockland County, addressed to US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. They wrote: “Dr. Spellings, we ask you to imagine yourself a 12-year-old girl whose family moves to China. You are placed in a 7th grade class and begin to learn Chinese. In the middle of the second year (8th grade), you are given the same standardized test that Chinese-born 8th graders take to assess their Chinese reading, writing and listening skills. How appropriate will that test be for you? Will you meet standards?”

We are deeply concerned about the emotional toll placed on children who are now being forced to take these high-stakes exams so soon after arriving in this country. In regard to children with disabilities, we have concluded that the goals of the legislation are diametrically opposed to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in that it fails to recognize the individual strengths and challenges of these special needs children.

We also believe that if teachers like you have a voice in improvement of this law, revisions will take these situations into account and allow greater flexibility. That will also mean a greater trust in public education for all children. All of this is described in our Report

Question from :
What role do the arts play in your planned changes to NCLB?

Sherilyn Brown RI Arts Learning Network

David M. Fried:
Some school districts have abandoned arts instruction in order to find more time for math and language arts instruction. I am proud to say that our school district, East Ramapo, has maintained an exceptional program in music, visual art, drama and dance. Not one teaching position in those subject areas has been lost in East Ramapo since NCLB. Too bad that is not the case in all districts throughout the country. Thank you for mentioning the arts, which are so important to the development of well rounded children. Perhaps the reauthorization of NCLB should have a component that requires district to include ample arts instruction.

Question from Jeffrey L. Peyton, Founding Exec. Dir., Puppetools:
Many teachers believe, but will not risk speaking out, that Testing violates their intellectual freedom and their students’ birthrights to a healthy, creative, and open learning culture. What if they are right? Is there any chance that NCLB is the political and bureaucratic nightmare many believe it is, and that Educators who believe it is ‘our only hope for progress’ just can’t handle the truth that NCLB is just another wrong-headed Bush mistake?

Harriet Cornell:
Perhaps the most glaring omission in the process that led to the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002 was the failure of the federal government to include the input of educators. Who could possibly know better how students learn than the teachers in the classrooms? NCLB, under its current structure, places considerable blame on schools and teachers for failing to raise standards. The theory is that by testing students more often and holding the results up to public scrutiny, schools and teachers will be motivated to teach better. There is no evidence to support this theory.

It is now five years later. One of the top priorities of our Collaboration is to demand that teachers and the administrators be brought into the process. It is time to ask them what is working and what is not. We believe that without the input of educators, the whole idea of No Child Left Behind becomes an empty promise that is destructive to the future of our children.

Question from Heather Winters Studio On Hudson Nyack New York:
Hello Harriet and David.

I wanted to write to you and commend you on your efforts to reform the NCLB Law in Rockland County.

I am a resident of Rockland (grandview) with offices in Nyack. My company and producing partner, Joe Morley, are the executive producers of the Academy Award nominated film, SUPER SIZE ME. We are also on the creative advisory board of the new arts center in Nyack, RIverspace.

But I am writing to you today as the producer and co-writer of a new documentary, CLASS ACT (, which focusses on the 50+ year teaching career of my former drama teacher, JAY W. JENSEN, also known as “Teacher to the Stars"(former students in the film include Andy Garcia, Brett Ratner, Roy Firestone). You cansee a recent write up about the movie in Teacher Magazine. The film is about how one teacher can make a difference in a kid’s life and tells Jay’s amazing story of how he amassed over $3mil on a teachers salary never exceeding $46,000/yr and gave it all back to education in the form of scholarships.

CLASS ACT is also the story of the national crisis America’s children are facing in public schools with the increased emphais on testing (NCLB) and the decline in arts education. The film features most of the country’s leaders, edcuators and authorties on this subject, from Dana Gioia, Chaiman NEA, to Reg Weaver, President NEA, Elliott Eisner, Standford U., Sir Ken Robinson, Getty Trust, Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Center for Education Statistics, to name just a few. The film also focusses on the dangers of the country’s narrowing of the school curriculum (71%) and the role creativity plays in each child’s education. CLASS ACT will be released in the fall of 2007 and we hope to be able to premiere the film in NY in Rockland.

Can you please let us know if detail what is being done in Rockland about the need to include the arts as part of the core curriculum?

Congratulations on the fine work you are doing in Rockland County.

Heather Winters, Producer, CLASS ACT, SUPER SIZE ME

Harriet Cornell:
One of the main reasons we engaged in this community process is because we wanted to guarantee that the arts will continue to be an integral part of the curriculum. We are fortunate in Rockland that there are many advocates for arts and music programs. We want to ensure that we have the resources for all the NCLB mandates so that mandates don’t compete with arts, history and other vital subject matter and policymakers can make good choices. The Rockland County School Boards Association recently calculated that the cost of NCLB has reached $11,000,000 to Rockland schools in 2005-06 and urged our state lawmakers to lobby the federal government for full funding.

The partnership between schools and community organizations has enabled school children to take classes in the arts at the Rockland Center for the Arts and other community center. As you know, we really believe in the arts in Rockland.

Thank you for your kind words and for the great work you do.

Question from Hal Portner, consultant:
I see nothing in the EdWeek article that suggests Rockland County’s proposed changes to NCLB challenges the Act’s ‘highly qualified teacher’ requirement. Does this mean you are satisfied with those requirements?

David M. Fried:
In fact, our report on pages 19-21 did address the problems with the Highly-Qualified teacher requirements. (With a 72-page report, it wasn’t possible for Education Week to cover every issue we addressed.) One of our concerns is that the system by which the state determines whether or not schools meet the “highly qualified” standard is inaccurate because it fails to recognize the need for special subject teachers to teach in multiple classrooms. If a special subject teacher does not meet the “highly qualified” standard, it could skew the result for the entire school. We further believe that the mandate requiring districts to employ only “highly-qualified” teachers is ill-defined and can be harmful to poorer school districts that cannot afford the salary requirements of teachers with more advanced education

Question from John Richard Schrock, Chair of Dept. of Biological Sciences, Emporia State University:
Foreign countries have had extensive experience with teach-to-the-test education. While they score at the top in international comparisons, they observe they do not get Nobel Prizes, and are moving to more open teaching. At the same time, we are moving to teach-to-the-test. Many of our best veteran secondary teachers are leaving early due to loss of academic responsibility under NCLB. Why are these international lessons ignored?

Harriet Cornell:
I think you have made a very valid point that needs to be considered as we go through the reauthorization process. It is true that many foreign countries have produced children who have the ability to score well on exams. What is important is that children have the ability to think creatively, to go beyond what they are taught in their classrooms. History has demonstrated that our best thinkers, the ones searching for a cure for AIDS and leading our technological revolutions, understood that their education had to go beyond the four walls of the classroom. I fear that we are headed in the direction of mass produced education and that we will face the negative consequences of this for generations to come.

Question from Michael Bertram, Board President, Denville School District, NJ:
What does your plan propose for Special Education Students who will never be able score at the Proficient level? I would like to see Portfolio assesment with year-to-year comparison to track improvement.

David M. Fried:
Let me refer you to page 43 of our report, which you can access through the link on the EdWeek website. In summary, our group feels that in many respects the IDEA and NCLB laws conflict, especially in relation to student testing. Our group supports the notion that reauthorization should allow for appropriate testing of students with disabilities based on each student’s IEP. In NY, we are presently allowed to identify 1% of the most profoundly disabled students to take alternate assessments, which are portfolio based. There are so many other disabled students whose educational achievement should not be measured by the grade level standards-based test that all other students take. The NCLB law does not allow for these gradations, probably because it was written with a fundamental lack of trust in public educators to do the right thing for children.

Question from Gene Perry, graduate student, ESL Institute:
Has anyone considered that NCLB may simply be a bad law, and it’s time to repeal it or let it expire?

Harriet Cornell:
Many people may believe it is a bad law, but our Rockland Education Collaborative came to this conclusion:. The goals of NCLB are worthwhile, but the legislation is not fulfilling its promise and therefore may be doing more harm than good. Our approach was to take time to assess and evaluate exactly what was happening in our eight school districts and BOCES. We included administrators, teachers, students, parents, community partners in our two-year analysis and have made explicit recommendations for change. Fix it, we will tell our Senators and Members of Congress when we present our findings at a large meeting arranged, courtesy of Senator Clinton.

Question from Emily Richmond, Graduate Assistant, College of Education & Psychology, The University of Southern Mississippi:
Reading First (RF), Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings (2006) insists that RF has been successful, citing three pieces of evidence: A rise in NAEP scores, a study from Michigan State, and test scores from the State of Washington. However, there has been much criticism about how RF was distributed as well as results. Is the jury still out? Will RF be tossed aside, or will it be renewed?

David M. Fried:
Although our group’s report did not address the Reading First component of NCLB, this is an important topic that is directly related to the concept of “scientifically based research” that pervades the NCLB legislation. As we state on page 25 of the report, the administrators at the U.S. Department of Ed have used this term to give the stamp of approval to expensive, usually scripted programs sold by huge publishing companies. DOE did not allow Reading First funds to be utilized, for example, for Reading Recovery, which would have allowed schools to “purchase” early childhood reading teachers, rather than publishers’ programs. I hope and expect that Reading First will be re-funded and that districts will have greater flexibility about how to spend the grant money.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Have the citizens of your school district voted on your propopsed plan? What political processes were used to claim that the plan represents the interests of citizens?

Harriet Cornell:
The Collaborative began as a small ad hoc group of government representatives and educators who wanted to talk about the impact of No Child Left Behind on our local schools and children. As word of our work spread, more people joined the group and the decision was made to hold a countywide symposium to gather information from teachers, parents and others involved in our children’s education. All community members were invited to attend meetings. The information from the symposium, as well as information the Collaborative collected during its 18-month study became the basis for our report. The voters of Rockland County do not decide on the future of No Child Left Behind. This will be done by our Congressional representatives. Our fervent hope is that this report may open up a dialogue in Congress that goes beyond numbers and formula for success. Our concern must be for the welfare of our children and the ability of schools to ensure that no child is ever left behind. We must supply our most struggling schools with the tools they need to make this happen, not to threaten them with unrealistic mandates and to punish them with destructive sanctions. It is our goal for those drafting any revisions to the law to begin to talk to teachers, administrators, and parents—to all those who care deeply about the education of our children—about how to fix No Child Left Behind so that our children can learn in an atmosphere that is rewarding, challenging and joyful.

Question from AnnRene’ Joseph, Program Supervisor, The Arts, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, WA State:
What about a well rounded education for the whole child? When will the NCLB AYP reflect reporting on all of the Core Academic Subject areas including The Arts - dance, music, theatre and visual arts? What about preparation for the 21st century with the creative, “out of the box”, imaginative and entrepreneurial minds that need to be developed to ensure that the United States can remain the world leader? What about the executive cognitive skills that instruction in The Arts provide through creating, performing and responding, preparing students for life and work with themselves and others? What about joy in school? What about rigor, relationship, relevance, and connection to all of life -past, present and future that The Arts provide? What about closing the achievement gap, raising achievement for all learners, and celebrating all culture and diversity through The Arts? What about all of the research that clearly states that the more arts instruction students have the better everything is? Arts for Art’s Sake, integrating The Arts (dance, music, theatre and visual arts) and arts in all of the content areas- Arts at the heart and soul of all learning is the answer. Can NCLB embrace this type of philosophy? Put The Arts on AYP and measure how well students are doing based upon NCLB expectations in Title V. Provide funds for The Arts in NCLB that will fund the mandate. The non-scientific hypothesis would indicate that More Arts instruction makes learning better for all students. No Child Left Behind! The Arts elevate all of us. Imagine if all of our schools provided The Arts the way that NCLB mandates? We would have increased teaching and learning across the nation that would impact and enhance the world in a positive, creative, and amazing way! More Arts is the answer!

Harriet Cornell:
Please be sure that your question is sent to your federal representatives because it goes to the heart of learning and is said better than I ever could. I agree totally, and it has been sad to see that the pressure from NCLB mandates felt by many schools has resulted in elimination or diminution of arts and music—and social studies, history and other subject matter important for the development of good citizens. I have read of scientific studies that show the connection between the study of music and increased proficiency in math. How wonderful it is for children to participate in the arts, for self-expression, and-- in the case of bands and orchestras and dance—to learn to work together to create something beautiful.

Question from Cara Jackson, Policy Analyst, GAO:
The report covers many aspects of accountability but does not mention corrective action or restructuring. What are your thoughts about how NCLB can be improved with regard to those issues?

Harriet Cornell:
NCLB can best be described as a deficit model. Instead of providing encouragement for schools to raise standards, the punitive nature of the legislation replaces encouragement with pressure and fear. The law is not supportive of efforts by schools and districts to address low standards over time. In fact the legislation does not recognize improvement trends until standards are met.

We recommend revisiting standards requirements and urge that students in more than one sub-group be counted as a percentage, based on the number of sub-groups in which they are included. We also believe that beyond determining if a student meets a single uniform benchmark each year, the legislation should include a component to determine if individual students are demonstrating improvement from year to year. If schools can demonstrate that under-performing students are showing significant improvement over the course of a year, then this information should be included in the calculation to determine if a school makes AYP.

Schools and teachers should be accountable, but their input was not sought initially when NCLB was written. The expertise of professionals who spend every day in the classroom must be considered and included.

Question from Proctor Houston:
How will your proposed changes help students and teachers advance teaching and learning?

Harriet Cornell:
As I said earlier, the most important thing is to get educators involved in the discussions regarding the reauthorization of NCLB. Clearly they know better than anyone else how to advance learning. I am not a teacher myself but as a government leader I am very involved in the education system in Rockland. We took the time to talk to teachers about how we can improve learning opportunities. As a result of these discussions, we have recommended that the law be broadened to include additional assessment measures, including portfolio assessments, school reports, and classroom participation.

Question from Terri Tomassi, Post Grad Student UK:
The NCLB goal was to demonstrate accountability of teaching effectiveness (as it reflects student acheivement) - how do you think parents will feel when you not longer demonstrate that for years 5,6,and 7?

David M. Fried:
Discontinuing required accountability testing in every grade does not mean that assessment stops and that parents are no longer informed about their children’s performance. Before the grades 3-8 testing was instituted last year, we had multiple forms of formative, summative and authentic assessment that gave parents great information about their children’s achievement.

Question from Mark Gillngham, Vice President, Great Books Foundation:
How can organizations help school districts interpret, comply, and modify the NCLB law?

Harriet Cornell:
To be truly effective—and successful—education must be a community priority. The Rockland Education Collaborative began due to our belief that No Child Left Behind effects the entire community, teachers, administrators, parents, as well as business leaders, government officials, and representatives of not-for-profits. Organizations can support the schools through efforts such as those of a group we call Rockland 21C. The goal of this collaborative organization, which Harriet Cornell helped to found more than a decade ago, is the optimal development of every child. Through this collaboration, 30 county schools now have family resource centers with access to social services, health services and literacy programs for all family members. Organizations can also support the schools by ensuring that funding is available to pay for NCLB-related programs. Sometimes this can mean convincing local property owners to pass budgets that may be inflated due to NCLB-related costs. Sometimes it can mean providing resources to the schools such as technological equipment and mentors. Study after study have shown that when the community steps up to the plate and provides support to the local schools, all of our children benefit.

Question from Don Blagsvedt, Consultant, Science Educator and Professional Developer, Olympia,Washington:
First , I applaud the Rockland Countygroup for engaging in a meaningful collaborative process, culminating in very clear and precise position paper on reforming NCLB. I have been appalled for years concerning the lack of vision demonstrated by knee-jerk administrators, archaic teacher union posturing(Albert Shanker was an exception), and idealogical school board members who dismiss everything we know about how children learn as “fluff” and “fadish"(ie. constructivism is not a fad but rooted in how our brains work!)

From my prespective, The essential question in the standards movement still re and what do our students need to know and be able to do to be successful citizens in a global world? How do we restructure the system to insure that all students both learn and have equal opportunites to learn

I have not found any serious reflective educator disagree with that goal. Yet NCLB, with its focus on annual testing, has moved us farther away from systemtically creating structures that allow that question to be addressed. WE have a broken, fragmented system, that quite honestly is joyless and frustrates and alienates any one who has a strong vision.

What are you doing in Rockland County to insure that the building of a cohesive curriculum is paramount? Do you have a belief system that supports addressing that essential curriculum question? What are effective strategies for moving the debate from annual standardized testing to supporting schools in the much more difficult task of changing the way we teach?

David M. Fried:
As I mentioned previously, New York State adopted excellent learning standards for all subject areas in the mid-90’s, before NCLB. The State then developed strong core curricula in most subjects, based on those standards. Our district, East Ramapo, has organized teams of teachers to analyze the state standards and core curricula in order to create curriculum maps that identify a logical order of instruction and the performance indicators for each unit. These performance indicators are, for the most part, at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and serve as good guides for teachers’ instructional planning. But strong curriculum is not enough. We have also instituted ongoing professional development to assist teachers in developing strategies for the kind of constructivist teaching that you support.

Question from Shelley Chawla, Mgr of Ed Services:
How are schools maintaining student portfolios? Are they electronic, hard copies, or some other method? If they are electronic, what types of software are they using for electronic portfolios?

David M. Fried:
The portfolios that NYS allows for alternalte assessment of severely disabled students are not electronic yet. The school-based portfolios that students in my school district maintain each year are also done on “old-fashioned” paper. My district recently developed a web-based Instruction Information Portal that gives teachers access to customized data reports. Down the road, throught scanning technolgy, we will be using the Portal to have teachers share students’ work electronically.

Question from Joe L. Farmer, Deputy Superintendent, East Ramapo Public Schools:
To Chairwomen, Harriet Cornell, I congratulate you and the committee on such a comprehensive report.Please share with us the nature of the next steps.

Harriet Cornell:
Thank you, Joe for your congratulations. It was an immense effort but since Rockland County has a history of collaboration among schools, government and community, it made perfect sense to me to use those relationships to embark on this study. As you well know, but others do not, that our county, unlike the City of New York and perhaps cities elsewhere, has no oversight over the schools. We nurture collaborations that foster the optimal development of all children.

Some members of our team will be going to Washington at the end of the month to present our findings to 40 or 50 of the education staffers of New York’s Congressional delegation, thanks to the invitation of Sen. Clinton. We will also have an opportunity to meet directly with our elected representatives. Our hope is that this report may open up a dialogue in Congress that goes beyond numbers and formulas for success.

It is our goal that those drafting any revisions to the law begin to listen to teachers, administrators and parents—to all those who care deeply about the education of our children—about how to fix No Child Left Behind so that our children can learn in an atmosphere that is rewarding, challenging and joyful.

Question from Laura Miller, Pocola Middle School:
How is it possible for every child enrolled in public school to be able to be on grade level, when there are so many variables in teaching some students?

Harriet Cornell:
This was a significant concern for the Collaborative, one that we heard expressed quite passionately at our symposium last year. The truth is that there are many factors that lead to academic success, and many of those factors go beyond the classroom.

As I said earlier, NCLB does not take into consideration how factors such as family stress, poverty, poor health, English proficiency, and limited resources can impact student success. The best environment for learning exists when a dedicated teacher recognizes the strengths and challenges of each individual child and works to help that child succeed. We fear that under NCLB, many teachers no longer have the time to focus on the specific needs of each child in the classroom.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for today’s online chat. It has been a fascinating and informative discussion.

And a special thanks to our guests for taking the time to talk about what they’ve learned in Rockland County that might be used to improve the No Child Left Behind Act.

This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

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