A weekend interview with ...
... members of Congress George Miller, D-California, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Miller and Castor recently visited with area school leaders and teachers to talk about proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, which Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, helped write. They talked with reporter Jeff Solochek about the legislation.
I want to make sure people understand the importance of the No Child Left Behind law and what it means to the people here in Florida. Because Florida has a dichotomous system right now, where people have a feeling that it does one thing and then it does another. Why are you here in Florida to talk to these people about this?
GM: One of the reasons is you have had this constant back and forth between the state accountability system and the federal accountability system. And that’s created a whole lot of tension very similar to the situation in California. Congresswoman Castor has talked about this since she first came to Washington. She’s been raising these issues with me. And I thought it would be a good forum to explain the kinds of changes we’re anticipating with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The biggest of course would be the growth model, which would smoothe out many of the differences between Florida and the federal standards, and certainly will make a difference in how we measure the progress the children are making in the system. Instead of comparing one class to another class, we will be making sure that child’s progress over a period of time to see that they’re working toward grade-level proficiency. That will be the biggest change with respect to the dichotomy in the system.
Congresswoman, you brought him here. You’ve been harping on this issue for a while. Why have you decided to focus on this issue and what do people here need to be thinking about as this bill moves forward?
KC: Well, I’m fortunate to be representing some of the biggest districts in the country, here in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee. And the public schools serve hundreds of thousands of children. And parents have very high expectations, as do we. But the problem is the way that No Child Left Behind and Florida’s FCAT system have been implemented is irrational. And frankly at the state level, over the past years, they’ve taken the easy way out. And parents now have come to recognize, and teachers as well, that you cannot base an accountability system on one single test at the end of the school year. There are so many other factors that go into children’s education. So the reform effort, which is looking positive at this point, is going to take a look at those different factors and make it a more rational accountability system. Because we’re doing great things in the school systems. Does it make sense for a school to be graded an A school under Florida’s system and then under the federal No Child Left Behind it doesn’t make adequate yearly progress? Parents are throwing up their hands and saying, What does this all mean?
You’ve thrown out the issue of multiple measures. My recollection is that Florida looked at multiple measures and then did away with it because they didn’t want schools to be graded, basically, on whether a kid had lice on a day or not - essentially to have attendance counted in achievement. How would you balance that?
GM: We wouldn’t allow those multiple measures. When people talk about multiple measures ... we’re talking about measures that drive positive behavior, drive achievement and give you a better picture of how that student, how that school is doing.
We’re talking about measures such as performance on statewide exams. I don’t know if Florida has a history exam, or a science exam. But many states do, or are working toward them in the very near future. That will give you some indication how well a student reads for comprehension. If they do well on those exams, that will tell you whether they flubbed on that day or if they’re really not proficient in reading. The graduation rate in that school will give you a clear picture of what’s going on in that school. The question of whether the school has AP courses, and how are the students doing in the AP courses, and how are they doing on the test, the AP test. Do they have a college preparatory curriculum?
Those are changes that people want to drive in the education system as we see the American economy becoming more complex. At exactly the time when employers and colleges are asking for that performance data, we’re still stuck in a system of one test, one day. We’re trying to drag this system into the 21st century. The children who start today in Pinellas schools are going to be in a work place 12 years from now. And it’s going to be a very different work place. And their skills and their talents and their critical thinking are going to have to be very different. And yet the school system is not there.
What about one test, one day for teachers? I know that you mentioned performance pay. It’s a hot button issue among several others. Can you talk about performance pay aspect of this and how you make that get away from one test, one day?
GM: One, it has to be negotiated with the teachers, because that’s where we’re seeing the greatest success with its usage. There have to be a series of indicators, professional development for teachers, master teacher evaluation, along with how the students are doing on the test over time. That has received significant acceptance from the coalition of the Teach Act, which we’re bringing into No Child Left Behind. That’s the teachers unions, he business community and others. As long as it’s worked out in the local district. There’s no evidence that it works by imposing it. We tried that in California. We just wasted a lot of money and we didn’t get any results.
KC: I’m a strong believer in National Board Certified Teachers, and I’m hopeful in this bill we can - for example, Hillsborough County is providing incentives for teachers who go through that very rigorous procedure ... and then go into a Title I school. I’m hopeful the feds can match that as a further incentive. It might not be available to all certified teachers. But these teachers that prove to their peer group, prove through their portfolios and through their results in the past, we can encourage them to go to those high-poverty schools.
I think people would be surprised to hear that Democrats support No Child Left Behind.
KC: It’s the reform and the change. If it’s going to stay like it is now ...
GM: My colleagues made it very clear, starting with the new members of Congress, because they ran in an election where this was an issue when they campaigned ... there were no votes to extend this act if these fundamental and basic changes weren’t made. I’ve listened to groups outside of Congress, I listened to my caucus. In the case of dropouts, in the case of high school performance, the Hispanic Caucus, the Black Caucus have worked for several years on these issues. They were waiting for this reauthorization. They want some say in our obligations to those students who are dropping out.
To hear further comments by Miller, made to school administrators and board members in Tampa on August 27, click here. (It's a 17-minute sound clip, so please be patient.)