ETHS teacher, NU alum meets with Obama to discuss education reform

Oliver Ortega

Evanston Township High School teacher Eric Brown met with President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the White House on Friday to discuss the need for comprehensive education reform.

In a speech afterward, Obama unveiled a new flexibility package for states struggling to meet specific No Child Left Behind mandates. Brown (WCAS ‘97, SESP ‘99), among other education experts, flanked Obama during the televised announcement.

Under the new guidelines, petitioning states will have to show they are actively trying to set college and career-ready standards for students, teachers and schools.

Brown, a science teacher at ETHS since 1999 and the Illinois director of the National Education Association, said No Child Left Behind has created an academic culture fixated on standardized testing and has stifled the student learning experience.

“With the relief from some of the mandates, I believe we’re going to be able to create meaningful learning activities and give students the opportunity to explore the world and be creative,” Brown said.

Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 under the Bush administration with the goal of raising academic standards within public schools through increased statewide accountability. Under the act, public schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) are “subject to improvement, corrective action and restructuring measures aimed at getting them back on course to meet state standards,” according to the act’s executive summary.

Sanctions range from mandatory tutoring for students in unsatisfactory schools to the shutting down of individual schools.

Brown emphasized the importance of giving students “learning experiences that allow them to think rather than bubbling in test answers.”

With authorization from the Department of Education, states can now obtain exemption from specific NCLB mandates inhibiting improvements, such as the Bush-era deadline for schools to have 100 percent of students display proficiency in math and reading by 2014. The department also can now tailor reformatory efforts to individual schools and districts.

The waiver proposal signifies a step in the right direction, said Charlie McBarron, Illinois director of communication for the National Education Association.

“It recognizes the reality of all the local district,” McBarron said. “It doesn’t go quite far enough, but it recognizes some basic facts.”

ETHS junior Matt Suppelsa said that especially in his Advanced Placement (AP) classes, test results are valued above anything else.

“We can’t really talk about anything in class,” said Suppelsa. “All we do is complete the homework, have it graded, have a test about it and then talk about what it’ll mean for the AP exam.”

Suppelsa also said he felt that some of his honors classes were mixed with students taking the class for regular credit in an effort to boost standardized test scores.

Duncan told Congress earlier this year that more than 80,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools could be labeled as failing under the No Child Left Behind Act and stressed the need for comprehensive reform.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the most important nationwide standardized math test, showed that student achievement grew faster when states dictated most education policies in the years before NCLB was implemented, and data released in the decade since it was enacted shows that there still exists an achievement gap between minority students and white students.

Brown said he feels that although the act shone light on this disparity, it fails to address the issue.

“It didn’t give us any tools to change it,” said Brown. “But now with flexibility we will be able to change things.”

The new flexibility package will begin to have an impact this school year, according to a White House press release.

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