November 30, 2007

New CTA President Shares Goal for 2008: Improve NCLB

By Amanda Martinez
New America Media

Editor’s Note: As the first Latino president of the California Teachers Association and a former bilingual teach-er, David Sanchez is especially aware of the failure of the No Child Left Behind law – especially in a state where 48 percent of the student body of public schools are Latino. Sanchez spoke before a gathering of ethnic media reporters sponsored by New America Media on November 13th.

SAN FRANCISCO – California Teachers Association president David Sanchez lambasted the federal No Child Left Behind law, calling it demoralizing to students, teachers and schools.

Sanchez spoke about his concerns with the NCLB Act before a dozen ethnic media reporters Nov. 13 at a media briefing sponsored by New America Media, the country’s first and largest national collaboration of ethnic news organizations.

Signed into effect by President Bush in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act expanded the role of the federal government in holding states and public schools more accountable to students’ progress. The government mandated that schools hold a standardized test to gauge students’ proficiency.

Sanchez noted that because the standards of student proficiency, which are determined individually by the states, are high in California, it puts an enormous strain on the state’s public school teachers and students.

The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to make “adequate yearly progress,” and is pushing for 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Since starting his presidency last June, Sanchez said his biggest concern has been slowing down the process of the Act’s reauthorization.

He is concerned that the Act directs too much of teachers’ and students’ attention to test taking. “The goal of schools should not be to pass a damn test, but to do well in school,” asserted Sanchez.

Sanchez talked about students who become frustrated because they can’t understand the test. Many times these students are coached to simply fill in the answer bubbles on the test by making pictures. This is an issue that most often affects English language learners. “We will have the best bubble fillers our country has seen,” joked Sanchez.

Currently, 48 percent of the student body in California’s public schools is Latino and 25 percent of students are English language learners. Sanchez, who is the first Latino president of the CTA, observed that he was very aware of the needs of non-English speaking students from his own experiences as a bilingual teacher.

“It is criminal to test children in languages they don’t read, write, or speak,” he said, noting that “our first priority should be getting all children to a common playing field.” Sanchez said he has been advocating for a re-evaluation of how schools test students. He believes that it would take multiple measurements to truly understand how students are performing academically.

The CTA president criticized the NCLB for not being able to close the achievement gap between Latino and African American students on one side and white and Asian students on the other. “It is the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind,” said Sanchez.

He said he was also concerned about how much of a negative impact the revised NCLB law could have on California’s 340,000 public school teachers, given that their salaries could be tied to students’ performance in the standardized tests. “It would be destructive to teachers,” he observed.

Sanchez said he has been working tirelessly to get Congress to pass a bill that is “fair” to California’s teachers and students. It was the CTA’s two-month-long campaign that influenced Congress to postpone the reauthorization of the bill until next year, he said.

Sanchez said he is looking forward to moving his focus towards such other goals as ensuring health care for all children, increasing resources for underserved schools, and encouraging parental involvement. “I want to bring back the joy of teaching and learning,” he said.

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