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Clinton, De Klerk address school board members
at 67th annual NSBA conference

The real buzz: No Child Left Behind and its impact

As many as 14,000 school board members attended the 67th annual National School Board conference this past weekend at San Francisco's Moscone Center.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Chelsey Hart

April 16, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (FCJ) - Two former presidents, Bill Clinton and F.W. de Klerk, headlined as keynote speakers at the National School Boards Association's 67th annual conference held at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center this past weekend.

President Bill Clinton focused his speech on our nation's failing health care system and the growing childhood obesity epidemic, while former South African president F.W. de Klerk explored the theme of change and the necessity for educators to adapt curriculum to new emerging technologies in a rapidly changing world.

Outside the convention, a group of protestors demanded the elimination of the controversial No Child Left Behind act. The clamor outside echoed the subtext inside - public education has become a highly politicized domain.

Clinton diverted his speech to the nation's growing health care crisis saying, half-jokingly, "If I were dictator, I would make some changes to that No Child Left Behind."

President Bill Clinton

"You do need some benchmarks in performance, but not with testing every year," Clinton added.

Under NCLB, annual standardized testing is mandated for students in grades 3-12.

"Maybe three tests total, in all the years of schooling" would be sufficient, Clinton said.

Calling universal health care a "moral imperative," Clinton stressed prevention and treatment. He provided sobering statistics about the health status of America's youth, including the obesity rate (the highest in the world), and the subsequent rise in Type-2 Diabetes (also known as Adult Onset Diabetes) in children as young as 9.

"These kids spend more time in school than any place else, so we have to get to them there," Clinton urged.

Clinton lauded the efforts of schools whose efforts to combat childhood obesity include re-emphasizing recess as a time to be active and making a school-wide commitment to well-balanced lunches. He then plugged Pepsico, thanking the corporation for its dedication to improving food in schools with healthier menu choices, and the elimination of soda and cookies from cafeteria vending machines.

Whereas Clinton emphasized the the U.S. health care crisis, former South Africa head of state, F.W. de Klerk, mused about the extraordinary societal transformation he observed, and supported, during and after his tenure as the last president of South Africa's apartheid era.

Despite a world in constant flux, there is a real need to define a vision for education "based on values and principles which can withstand the ages," de Klerk stated.

Former South Africa President F.W. de Klerk.

Using South Africa's transformation from apartheid to a multi-racial democracy as an example, de Klerk outlined his country's acceptance of change through 'change management' urging educators to "articulate a clear and achievable vision", and to "take the calculated risks associated with that leap."

Despite the heavy rain outside protestors, including teachers, parents, and school board commissioners, picketed in protest of the NCLB act, due for reauthorization by congress later this spring.

The NCLB Act was approved during President Bush's first term and is the linchpin of his education agenda.

"We are against the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind", said Oakland 5th grade teacher Mary Loeser, "It is an effort to privatize education and remove the 'public' from public schools."

Forty-two of Oakland's ninety-eight schools have closed and many are reopening as charter schools. California allows for-profit corporations to run charter schools.

Schools in Oakland have closed because of declining enrollment, which Loeser believes is tied to a narrow curriculum, tailored to accommodate the NCLB test demands.

Joe Lucido, a teacher and parent in Fresno, California, is a founding member of the Coalition to Eliminate No Child Left Behind. The coalition is primarily opposed to the testing component of NCLB.

"Standardized testing causes fear and pain and damages learning in the classroom", Lucido stressed. "Standardized tests eliminate student thinking, and limits their ability to reason and think critically."

Under NCLB schools must show progress on standardized tests, or face sanctions.

San Francisco School Board member Eric Mar said of the NCLB act: "While we want to see a reauthorization of federal laws like ESEA that ensure that Title I and other funding and support is provided to low income and working class schools and communities, we are united in opposition to NCLB for its harmful impact on our schools.

Eric Mar with daughter Jade
Photo courtesy ericmar.com

"NCLB was developed and has been supported by conservative and big business interests that are promoting privatization and business practices on schools and a high-stakes testing-fundamentalism. We want adequacy in funding, especially for urban districts and schools with low income children. The testing mania is also forcing teachers to teach to the test instead of helping students deepen their critical thinking and creative abilities," Mar stated.

Anne Bryant, president of the National School Boards Association, told Fog City that the NSBA does support the reauthorization of the NCLB Act but urges a review and revisions.

The NSBA is working with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to secure co-sponsors for his bill, H.R. 648, the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2007.

The bill offers improvements that address many of the unintended consequences of the federal legislation that have resulted in unfair assessment testing practices.

The Young bill would allow for more flexibility in assessing students, in particular students with disabilities and English language learners.

According to Bryant, the Young bill has "almost all 42 of our recommendations for change" including revisions to assessment testing.

NSBA National Director Anne Bryant

Luke Thomas contributed to this report.




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