04/04/07 — Senator visits Dillard Middle to see NCLB program firsthand

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Senator visits Dillard Middle to see NCLB program firsthand

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 4, 2007 1:45 PM

Visiting Dillard Middle School Tuesday to celebrate the success of the school's new literacy program, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, made it clear that while he agrees that No Child Left Behind needs to be reformed, he does not want to see it scrapped like some of his colleagues in the House of Representatives.

"We're five years into the program, so we're still three years from the first class graduating eighth grade and we're already seeing progress. The trend is in the right direction," Burr said. "Everybody thought Brown v. Board of Education entitled everyone to an equal education. All that did was entitle everyone to a desk. No Child Left Behind is the first legislation that has entitled everyone to an equal education."

And that, he continued, is something he refuses to give up on -- even in the face of complaints that the program is not working.

"Our biggest headache has been No Child Left Behind," Wayne County Board of Education Chairwoman Shirley Sims told Burr. "That has been our enemy.

"We know that everybody has to be accountable, and we're not opposed to being held accountable. But you can't be accountable if the odds are already set against you. One child can cause a whole school to be non-performing. That's a problem."

Burr, however, pointed to the success of Dillard's READ 180 program as evidence that the demands of No Child Left Behind can be met.

"Basically I look at (people) and say, 'What child do you want to leave behind. You pick, because I sure can't,'" he said. "It takes educators who are willing to do something different."

READ 180, a literacy enhancement tool offered by Scholastic Inc., is a research-based program that combines independent reading, teacher-led instruction and computer software programs to help children improve their reading skills.

It focuses on spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

"It's an exciting program," Dillard principal Sylvester Townsend said. "It really deals with the literacy deficiency of the students."

Townsend, who served as principal in 2005-06 at Goldsboro Middle School, explained that the program helped that school meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) in reading for the first time.

"We're looking for the same results here at Dillard," he added. "And if we can get the literacy piece nailed down, that will translate into other areas."

So far, the results have been similar.

Already, data from Wayne County Public Schools is showing 63 percent of seventh-graders and 53 percent of eighth-graders with significant improvements in their reading ability since the beginning of the school year. Students attend the program for three 90-minute sessions every week.

One seventh-grade student, Justin Howard, said the program has helped him increase his vocabulary, allowing him to read more difficult books. Now, his READ 180 instructor Carvin Lucas said, he is reading above his grade level.

"It really works if you'll just stick with it," Howard said.

Parents also are seeing the marked improvements.

"What I like, is the fact that before my (seventh-grade) daughter was in the 180 program, she just didn't try to read. Now she does," Roxanne Cyrus said. "It makes a big difference.

"She's reading on her own, and I can see the difference in her face when she reads because now I know she understands."

It's because of such success stories, Burr continued, that he's confident No Child Left Behind will work and that schools will meet their 100 percent proficiency marks by 2014.

"When you have a program like 180, it's like lightbulbs going off in the kids in the program and that has a continuing effect on the other kids, the teacher and the rest of the classroom," he said.

But, he acknowledged, there are adjustments that need to be made.

The first is finding a way to retool the way the federal government distributes its money so states like North Carolina ($1,100 per Title I pupil) and Massachusetts ($7,000 per Title I pupil) are more equally funded.

The second is extending the idea of No Child Left Behind into the high schools -- not the same testing measures, but the same ideas of accountability -- to help improve graduation rates.

And the third is adjusting the way some subgroups -- English as a second language and special needs students -- are measured.

"I think that what we're in the process of doing right now is figuring out if there are some subgroups that don't fit the mold and looking at those to see if they should be measured differently," Burr said, stressing again, though, that states should not be allowed to opt out of the program as a House bill would allow.

"No Child Left Behind provides flexibility. The only requirement is that they have their annual progress measured. We can't lose our vision of what it was when we first introduced No Child Left Behind and that was to say we would give every child a chance."