• IDRA Newsletter • January 2005

Across the country recently, hundreds of people voiced their opinions on the No Child Left Behind Act. Parents, students, educators and community members testified in several states before panels of leaders to identify the extent to which NCLB is providing adequate resources, improving teaching and learning, delivering targeted services to students and teachers, and enhancing the public’s confidence in its schools and in the nation’s system of public education.

As more schools are identified by NCLB as falling short and as debate over the federal law intensifies, the Intercultural Development Research Association hosted a forum in Texas to hear public opinion about children’s schooling and the impact of the NCLB education law.

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, stated: “For 30 years, IDRA has worked together with parents, educators, and community and business leaders to ensure excellent schools where children are safe, happy, learning and engaged. The community is a powerful force for promoting quality neighborhood public schools. This hearing on NCLB is an opportunity to listen to the community on what is best for our children.”

The forum was the sixth in a series of 10 public hearings sponsored by Public Education Network in conjunction with state and regional partners. PEN is a national organization of local education funds dedicated to improving public schools and building citizen support for quality public education for all children.

More than 60 people participated in the Texas hearing, including 21 panelists and 20 “open-mike” testifiers. Panelists and testifiers were able to contribute in either English or Spanish.

The hearing officers were: Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, executive director of IDRA; Arlinda Marie Arriaga, national youth president of League of United Latin American Citizens; Maria del Rosario “Rosie” Castro, coordinator of Student Support Services at Palo Alto College; William Miles, director of policy initiatives and programs at PEN; and John Wilkerson, partnership advisor of the San Antonio Education Partnership.

The Texas hearing included four panels: student, parent, community and business.

The largest panel at the hearing was the student panel, comprising college students and those from regular, charter, magnet and alternative high schools in different parts of the state. The recurring sentiment from students concerning NCLB was that they knew very little about it.

Representatives on the parent panel expressed concern that they must deal with the stress standardized testing places on their children. Although NCLB mentions parents 240 times, panelists overwhelming felt that the federal government and school districts need to show, through action, that they respect and value parent involvement and contributions.

Representatives from the business community in the state testified about too much time being spent teaching for testing rather than on critical analysis and reasoning and on delving into other subjects.

Community advocates also raised concerns about high-stakes testing and low funding levels.

Opportunities to provide input on NCLB were not limited to testifying at the hearing. IDRA provided laptops, tape recorders, and paper forms so those who did not wish to testify or who had additional testimony could submit online, written or oral statements.

All of the testimony and input will help determine how federal law affects local communities. It will be incorporated into a national report that will be presented to members of Congress, the media, policymakers and education stakeholders.

Dr. Robledo Montecel summarized: “Beyond information dissemination and reporting, though, I believe this hearing can catalyze dialogue and action regarding NCLB and quality schooling for all children, especially as the act undergoes Congress’ review and amendment in 2005.”

The Texas hearing was supported by a number of organizations, including: the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio; Making Connections – San Antonio, An Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Texas Latino Education Coalition; Texas League of United Latin American Citizens; and Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA 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.]