• by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.  • IDRA Newsletter • January 2005

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.Editor’s Note: In September 2004, the Intercultural Development Research Association hosted a public hearing for Texas on the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act. IDRA executive director Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel presented the (adapted) remarks below as a hearing officer. 

In our mission to help schools provide a high quality education for children of all backgrounds, IDRA has, like many of you, followed the debates surrounding No Child Left Behind. It is a law that promises to close achievement gaps between rich and poor students. The act is one of the most far-reaching education reform efforts since the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate is not equal.

NCLB mirrors Texas’ system of accountability in education. It took what was being done in Texas and amplified it, good and bad, to the national stage. Whatever the strengths and shortcomings the system may have carried with it, there is no doubt that more must be done to improve the way in which we serve our children.

In Texas, we have a 38 percent overall dropout rate and a distressing dropout rate of over 44 percent for African American and Latino students. Close to one in four African American and Latino students cannot read or do math on grade level, compared to one in 10 White students. Surely we can do better.

Texas must also commit to increase funding for public education. Since 1993, the state has reduced its contribution from 60 percent to 38 percent, forcing school districts to either assume a greater share of funding, or cut back their programs for students and teachers. As the state defaults in its responsibility to fund education, most school districts in Texas, especially property poor districts, are unable to deliver the quality education that all students deserve and that legislation such as NCLB seeks to ensure.

District Court Judge John Dietz, in his decision in the recent Texas school funding case, said: (1) the current underfunded system perpetuates the education gap between rich and poor; (2) in addition to expanding the overall level of support for all students, the state must expand its investment in programs that serve poor and minority students; and (3) unless the state funding issue is resolved and addressed in an equitable manner, Texas, in 2040, will have a population that is “larger, poorer, less educated, and more needy than today.”

As NCLB enters its third year of implementation, Texas is seeing an increase rather than a decrease in the number of schools failing to meet the accountability standards set by the law almost three years ago.

The Texas Education Agency is notifying an estimated 300 schools in 189 districts that they have failed to achieve standards called “adequate yearly progress” for the second straight year. That means those schools must allow their students to transfer to another school, either public or private, according to NCLB, if they so wish, at the cost of the school district. Incidentally, such costs will come out of Title I funds, leaving fewer monies in the district to educate children.

At this hearing, you have told us to what extent you think NCLB has or has not provided adequate resources, improved teaching and learning, delivered targeted services to students and to teachers, and enhanced your confidence in schools and in the nation’s public education system.

For all of us, we can take testimony presented and spread the word to others in the broader community, not as a report of public input, but rather as a starting point for dialogue and for very quick action.

I have been struck by the fervor and commitment I heard in the testimony that was provided. We can certainly build on that as we create something that does work for children.

This hearing focused on input from the community at large, including parent, business and civic leaders. NCLB acknowledges the community’s involvement as a powerful force to promoting quality public schools. In fact, it mentions parents 240 times. It is pretty obvious to me that it does not matter how many times the law mentions them, parents and communities are left out of No Child Left Behind. We have to change that.

As NCLB intends to hold schools and students accountable, we must also hold our government accountable with our full participation in these processes. We most look at the benefits and challenges of No Child Left Behind and collaborate to strengthen state and federal policy.

When NCLB is open for review and amendment by Congress in 2005, all of us ought to take the lead and present feedback and ideas offered at this hearing and from our discussions. In fact, testimony given at this hearing, along with written testimony submitted online and testimony given orally via cassette recorder, will be compiled into a national report and presented to members of Congress.

I have also been struck by the way in which No Child Left Behind has cemented together two issues that are not one in the same. On the one hand, we have the ability or the willingness of schools to educate children, and on the other hand, we have children learning what they are taught. Our leaders seem to have bought hook, line and sinker the notion that those two are inseparable and that in order to hold schools accountable, we have to punish children for not showing up as well as the schools would like. That is the worst kind of accountability. We have to find better ways to hold schools accountable for education of children.

One of the parents today said that even children who do not have parents or whose parents do not speak English have the right to be educated in schools. That is what schools are for. That is what educators are for.

On the other hand, in order to hold schools accountable, just like we hold all other public institutions, we do not have to, at the same time, punish children for not learning what they have not been taught.

It’s a little bit like telling you in the hearing this afternoon, “You can provide all the testimony that you want verbally, on the computers in the back, on audio tapes, or in writing.” And then we take from your hand the computer, the paper, the pen and the cassette recorder and say: “Well, you know what? You don’t really care about education, you really didn’t want to provide testimony. Bad, bad, bad.” But we would have taken from you what was necessary for you to contribute.

That is much like what we are doing to children by not fully funding No Child Left Behind. That is much like what we are doing to children by penalizing them for not showing up smart enough on tests. And we twist it around and turn it on children.

Together, parents, communities and educators are smart enough to figure out ways in which we can hold public institutions accountable to the public, in which we can press for accountability that does not hurt kids, and in which we can make sure that we have fair funding for the common good. And today, with all of your interest, your caring and your time, I know that we can get that done.

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is the IDRA executive director. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]