A town hall meeting to discuss education attended by administrators from numerous local school districts on Tuesday, Nov. 1 quickly became a rallying cry against the federal No Child Left Behind Act, as superintendents took turns pointing out the unrealistic standards they say the act has set for their schools.
The meeting, hosted by 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis and State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, took place at the Lindop Elementary School in Broadview.
Yarbrough began the meeting by calling for parent involvement, a theme that would persist throughout. "Parents should set the tone for what's going to happen with students…they should be the first teacher," she said.
She also took a subtle shot at her opponent in March's Democratic primary, Proviso Board of Education President Chris Welch, stating that "we must insist that educators, not politicians, run the schools."
Welch, who attended the meeting but did not speak, has attempted to frame himself as the education candidate in the race, and has criticized Yarbrough for not prioritizing education as state rep.
During his introductory comments, Proviso Chief Education Officer Robert Libka told the crowd of about 40 to expect major changes in the "culture" of District 209. "You'll see accountability increased, and autonomy reduced," he said.
Libka's criticism of No Child Left Behind was minimal compared to other administrators, but he did note that the tests by which the act measures each school district "doesn't measure progress, but measures a student's level at a certain point in time."
Proviso Superintendent Phyllistine Murphy also briefly addressed the audience, calling for increased parent involvement in high schools and greater collaboration between districts.
"We can learn what is working at other school districts and bring it back to our own," she said.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of No Child Left Behind was Forest Park Superintendent Randy Tinder. "I think the goal of this law is to destroy public education and make it the domain of poor and minority students, because those with money are going to take their money and their vouchers and go to private schools," he said, noting that private schools are not required to meet the act's standards.
Tinder said that local schools are "doing the best we can with the resources we have," and urged residents to visit schools and form their own opinions rather than taking the federal government's word.
"Maybe you can't fix the problem by throwing money at it, but let's try at least once and see what happens," he said, urging legislatures to increase funding for education rather than forcing mandates on cash-strapped schools.
Host Superintendent Jerry Jordan of Edmund F. Lindop School District 92 echoed Tinder's criticisms. "We're not on the watch-list so we can't get extra funding," he said. "We should get funding so we don't end up on the watch-list."
Following the superintendents' introductory comments, Davis gave a brief speech calling public education "the greatest equalizer this country has ever seen" and then opened the floor for public comment.
Barbara Cole, who runs the Maywood Youth Mentoring Program, attempted to steer the criticism of No Child Left Behind in a more productive direction. Though she said she agreed the act is an unfunded mandate, she said that it has also served as "a wakeup call because what we're doing is not working."
"It is focusing us on the achievement gaps that exist," she said. Under the act, schools are required to report test scores of subgroups divided by race, economic class and gender. "No Child Left Behind has raised the visibility of the problem, so let's work on it."
Cole also focused on increasing parent participation, stating that "if we get 10 parents at a PTA meeting at Proviso East we're doing good…something's wrong with that picture."
Others suggested that increased involvement must begin much earlier in students' careers. "Most people who drop out in high school actually dropped out in grammar school," said one audience member. "If you fall behind, you lose interest."