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Educator Encourages Advocacy for School Reform

Apr 09, 2003 03:17 PM EDT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Grass-roots advocacy is essential for continuedschool reform, according to a longtime educator.David Hornbeck, chairman and founding counsel for Good Schools Pennsylvania,a nonprofit coalition dedicated to public education reform, spoke during theApril 4-7 meeting of the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of GlobalMinistries. He was named in March as the new president and chief executiveofficer of the International Youth Foundation.

The Women's Division, which oversees United Methodist Women, launched PhaseIII of its Campaign for Children in 2002, with a focus on public schooleducation. Each UMW unit is urged to connect with local schools "and toexplore ways to effectively promote quality, safe and accessible publiceducation for every child."

Hornbeck offered a quick overview of school reform, starting in 1954, whenthe U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. the Board of Education opened thedoor to school integration. Subsequent educational changes included adoptionof Title I, the report on "A Nation at Risk," and the move towardestablishing state testing standards during the 1990s.

The recertification of Title I in 1994, with test standards at the center,created the framework for the National Education Act, also known as "No ChildLeft Behind," he said.

Under the act, schools are not considered to have met standards unless allgroups of children - not just an average of all students - have met thespecified performance level. Parental involvement and quality teaching alsoare emphasized.

Institutions affected by the new criteria of what is considered "failing" arenot just the obvious ones, Hornbeck pointed out to directors. When he servedas superintendent of the Philadelphia school system, a school that wasconsidered highly desirable was put on the failing list. Although therequired average was good, students at the bottom of the academic rung hadnot shown improvement.

"For years, Greenfield (school) had masked the absence of the staff'sperformance with these youngsters by improving the performance of the kidswho were going to do well," he explained. The next year, he added, Greenfieldexceeded performance targets for the bottom-level students.

Although Hornbeck said No Child Left Behind "represents a significant leapforward" in public education, it faces a lack of funding for carrying out itsgoals. Another problem is that the local school or school district, not thestate, is held accountable for meeting the goals. The result, he said, isthat some districts, often in urban areas, must struggle to reach the samelevel of achievement as their better-funded suburban counterparts.

He lauded the suggested education advocacy actions of the UMW Campaign forChildren. "Your advocacy is essential to the unmet needs, and this actsharpens the definitions of the unmet needs," he said.

But an infrastructure for such advocacy is essential, Hornbeck tolddirectors. He believes that the concept demonstrated by Good SchoolsPennsylvania, a grass-roots focus on improved public education, couldtranslate effectively to other states.

The National Council of Churches is part of the founding council of GoodSchools Pennsylvania, and all three United Methodist annual (regional)conferences in the state have been active participants in the coalition. GoodSchools also has 20 college and 45 high school chapters. This year, thecoalition is sponsoring 50 legislative action days in the Pennsylvania statecapital between Jan. 26 and June 30.

By Albert H. Lee
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