Supporters of the No Child Left Behind Act sometimes say their critics don't have any better ideas. To test that belief, staff writer Jay Mathews asked people involved in various aspects of public education for alternatives to the federal legislation, which emphasizes annual testing, better teacher qualifications and changes in schools that don't measure up. Below are the responses.
* Anthony Cody, math and science teacher, Bret Harte Middle School, Oakland, Calif.
We need community goal-setting, where town meetings are convened. Educators would help plan and lead these meetings, along with business and political leaders. Each community can then identify the priorities and marshal resources to support the schools. A basic amount of federal aid would go to needy districts. Additional funding would go to those with creative and ambitious initiatives.
* Deborah Meier, author of "In Schools We Trust" and co-principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston.
No school board should be responsible for the work of more than 5,000 students or 15 small schools, and parents should be provided with choices between schools. Require all schools and/or districts to define what it takes to get their diploma, along with the publicly accessible evidence used to determine who has or has not met their definition.
Schools should be required to provide such data on the progress of all their students -- by income and race. The school's evidence should include results on a state-approved test of basic literacy and arithmetic skill aimed at an eighth-grade level of competency, sampled standardized testing in literacy and math between grades 10-12, as well as a publicly accessible periodic external review of its fiscal integrity and its educational competence and outcomes.
All schools should be funded equal to the per-pupil expenditures of the wealthiest subdistrict, with additional funds for schools with higher percentages of low-income pupils.
Ensure that all children's medical needs are met, that high-quality child care is available when school is not in session and that children are schooled in equally sound physical plants. All school faculties should spend at least half as much of their working hours in consultation with families and colleagues, and in professional development activities, as is spent instructing or monitoring pupils.
* Kenneth J. Bernstein, social studies teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt.
Give students books they can own. And read aloud with them. Let them write about things that interest them. Then show them how to improve their writing, using their own work. Devote enough resources to give children more attention and help on their writing, which can't happen in classrooms with 35 kids.
* Daniel A. Domenech, superintendent of Fairfax County schools.
More time to learn. Preschool programs, full-day kindergarten, extended school days, extended school year, and summer programs. Provide kids with the additional time to catch up. In Fairfax's Excel schools, when the school achieves its target, everyone in the school gets a bonus [up to $2,000 just before the holidays in December].
* Sue Allison, coordinator of Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing.
Districts should have to make adequate yearly progress toward school climate goals -- class size, quiet places for one-on-one work with students, cheerful atmosphere, air conditioning, toilet paper, computers, books for all. They should also have to make [adequate yearly progress] toward teacher-quality goals.
School evaluations should be based 50 percent on General Accounting Office-style reports from the state education department, after audit teams have done classroom visits in which they make observations about student engagement, among other things. The other 50 percent should come from parent and student surveys, which would ask questions such as: Are you treated in a respectful manner? Do you feel safe? Do you like school or are you bored out of your gourd?
Teachers with the best survey results get big old bonuses -- a percentage of which could go to the school.
* Ronald A. Wolk, board chairman, Editorial Projects in Education, publishers of Education Week and Teacher magazine.
Personalize education -- adopt something like the medical model, where we try to tailor a child's education to his or her skills, interests and needs. We need to create new small, innovative schools that focus on helping youngsters become competent, responsible adults who will be lifelong learners. Schools must help children develop qualities that standardized tests cannot measure.
* Tim Hacsi, author of "Children as Pawns" and lecturer, Harvard Extension School.
I would target funds toward schools with low-income, low-performing students, for one purpose: small classes of 15 students or less in elementary schools, taught by highly qualified teachers. Some of the money should go to new classrooms -- not trailers! -- and some should go toward higher salaries to retain the best teachers. Good teachers in classes small enough to recognize each child's strengths and weaknesses will also have time to try to address those weaknesses, without the negative side effects that can come from some approaches to testing, such as increased dropout rates.
* Susan Ohanian, author of "What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?"
Do no harm. Do not treat all schools the same. Do not accept directives from or pay consulting fees to people who have never in their lives been shut up in a room with 28 seventh-graders. Before mandating statewide use of a performance measure, ask lawmakers to take it and allow their scores to be posted.
* Deb Van Dalen, sixth-grade teacher, Greenville (Wis.) Middle School.
In order to enroll their child in kindergarten, parents should be required to take a semester-long course on parenting a successful student. A second course would be required before the child enters middle school and another as they enter high school. Teachers should get one semester paid leave every five years, during which they would go back to being students and prepare for future teaching experiences.
* Robert Schaeffer, public education director, FairTest.
Local assessments -- including portfolios, exhibitions and performance tasks -- as gateways to graduation, which are approved by regional boards and based on essential state standards.
Regular school quality reviews by well-trained outside monitors assessing the effectiveness of local educational practices and intervening if performance benchmarks are not met.
Limited, low-stakes standardized testing in reading and math as one data source for the external reviews.
Tim Hacsi recommends using funds to reduce class sizes and raise teachers' salaries.Susan Ohanian says officials should take any standardized test they require of children.Kenneth J. Bernstein suggests allowing children to study topics that interest them.