Yesterday, after an hourlong discussion where Raymond Simon, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, met with 19 of Maryland's high-ranking educators and fielded their questions and concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act, several superintendents were left dissatisfied.
While some said they were pleased with the opportunity to dialogue about some of the problems associated with the act, they also said that they were not pleased with some of Simon's responses.
During the discussion, the educators spoke about the shortage of qualified teachers, financial hardships caused by trying to meet the act's goals, and the challenge of closing the achievement gap for foreign-born students and special education students.
Sydney L. Cousin, superintendent of Howard County Schools, asked Simon about providing more testing flexibility for foreign-born students who are learning English.
Cousin explained that research shows that it takes five to seven years for foreign-born students to become fluent enough to take tests in English, yet No Child Left Behind gives them a one-year waiver before applying their test scores as part of a local school's achievement.
Simon launched into a spiel about holding accountable students who have grown up in this country.
Anne Arundel's Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell immediately clarified that Cousin was talking about immigrant students.
“That is an issue that many of us are grappling with,” Maxwell said.
Simon responded that the one-year waiver was the result of a compromise between the federal government, local school systems, and advocates for foreign-born students. He also said that some schools have been able to offer assessment tests in the student’s native language. (Most of the superintendents appeared to be unaware of this option.)
Maxwell later said that Simon did not address the issue.
“I was a little disappointed by the response,” he said.
Cousin also wasn’t pleased with the response, but he said he did not have high expectations for the discussion.
"Given the limited amount of time, there really wasn't an opportunity to go into depth," Cousin said. "I don't know if that was the right forum."
Cousin was impressed by the fact that Simon wanted to meet with local superintendents.
"At least they said they want to hear what we have to say," Cousin said. "The follow-up is the critical question."
If you had the opportunity to talk to Simon about No Child Left Behind, what would you say? One reader e-mailed this morning and said he would have questioned Simon about the achievement gap among African-American students.