Sunday, March 04, 2001

Boehner talks, listens about Bush school plan

By Bu Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON - Ohio is already meeting many of the provisions called for in President Bush's “No Child Left Behind” proposal for education reform.

        That message came from U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, during a 90-minute roundtable discussion Saturday with Hamilton educators.

        As chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee — the panel that will oversee Mr. Bush's education-reform package — Mr. Boehner is conducting similar discussions across the country to get input on and support for the plan.

        He spent Saturday afternoon holding a similar discussion in Piqua.

        Earlier, the congressman sent out copies of the proposal to 1,500 teachers. Going into communities for small-group discussion is the second phase to gather input before the plan goes before the House and Senate.

        The three major themes of the president's plan are flexibility in spending increased federal dollars to schools, early childhood reading programs so that children are reading at grade level no later than third grade, and accountability at the school building level for student achievement through tests administered in grades three through eight.

        Under the president's plan, schools where students don't meet expectations for three years face sanctions and parents gain the option of sending their children to another school, public or private.

        “The big issue I'm hearing is people are concerned about annual testing,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview.

        “Teachers are concerned about teaching to tests, and parents say there are too many tests. Probably the biggest misconception is this plan means additional testing. It doesn't.”

        Hamilton Superintendent Janet Baker said parents there already have options through the school board's open enrollment policy. It allows parents to send their child to a different elementary school in the district if they are displeased with their child's assigned school or would prefer a program only offered at another school.

        Vocational teacher Deloris Hudson, who heads Hamilton's teacher bargaining unit, said teachers are frustrated with constantly changing standards and money that dries up before programs have a chance to work.

        “If you can't help me get better and stay with me, then what's the point?” Ms. Hudson said. “Stick with (something) without changing the standards.”

        Too often educators get children to an expected level of achievement only to find the expectation has been changed, said Hamilton High Principal Tom Alf.

        “We get there and then they change the bar - after we finally get a clear picture of what is expected,” Mr. Alf said. “Assessments change all the time. It's frustrating.”

        Everett Mann cautioned Mr. Boehner to make sure the extra federal money goes to schools and not for administration.

        “Funds that Congress thinks are coming don't always make it to the schools,” said Mr. Mann, who oversees grant writing and federal programs for the district.

        Mrs. Baker said she is pleased that a legislator was seeking input from those whom the plan would affect most.

        “It would be very easy for legislators to make rules in isolation of educators, who do the work every day,” Mrs. Baker said. “The fact that he's interacting with people in the trenches every day is a positive step.”


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