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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2004

Is 'No Child Left Behind' law best way to help student achievement?

By Dan Inouye

I have followed the debate on education reform with much interest. It has engaged many in our community — parents, students, teachers, principals, business leaders, media, government and policy-makers — about what we must collectively do to raise the level of student achievement in Hawai'i. The level of awareness is high and the dialogue fluid. That is good, and in keeping with our democratic traditions.

At the end of the debate, the focus must be on a series of actions to directly support and enhance the relationship between teacher and student that, in turn, will result in greater achievement.

Many of the priorities are simple basics. More textbooks, yes. Repaired school facilities, yes. Smaller class sizes for a lower pupil-to-teacher ratio, yes. More computers and greater technology investments, yes. Increased support for our teachers, yes. Focus on increasing proficiencies in reading, writing and arithmetic, by all means.

Some of the other emerging priorities are novel and out of the box. They include the student-weighted formula that would take into account the unique needs of each student; providing principals with greater autonomy to address the issues in their respective schools directly and efficiently; and according parents a choice in the public school that their child attends.

I would venture to say that there is much more that the parties agree on than disagree on.

The federal role in the education of our children has been to set standards, and to provide a level of funding to implement those standards. We have failed to deliver our part, which would support many of the reforms being debated.

More than two years ago, the Congress, working with the White House, enacted the No Child Left Behind Act to raise education standards, provide a trained teacher in every classroom and close the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children.

However, this was not intended to become an unfunded mandate. Federal resources are critical to help communities recruit and train well-qualified teachers, reduce class size, and provide specialized instruction for reading and math.

That is why I was very disappointed that the Bush administration did not request full funding for the No Child Left Behind Act in its budget submission to the Congress.

Add to that, my Republican colleagues, as the majority party in the Senate, also shortchanged America's children by failing to include full funding in the Senate budget resolution.

While a gallant effort was made to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act by increasing it by $8.6 billion, my Republican colleagues defeated the Democratic amendment by a vote of 46 to 52 recently.

This amendment would have lived up to the commitments made to students and teachers when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. This was a tragedy.

Unless we step forward and do our part, how can we demand of our states and school districts that they to do their part to meet the federal standards?

Some states are seriously considering opting out of these federal requirements, even though that would mean a loss of federal dollars to support, for example, the needs of the most disadvantaged students.

Hawai'i lawmakers have raised similar concerns. How can we blame them, when federal resources are not forthcoming?

We must give as much priority nationally in the education of our future leaders as we do in providing tax relief for those who have already succeeded, and for the war we are waging in faraway lands.

We in the Congress need to make investments in public education if we are to truly be a part of the tough decisions and bold reforms being made locally to make the schools better and to increase the level of student achievement. We need to put our kids first.

Dan Inouye, a Democrat, is the senior U.S. senator from Hawai'i.