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Educator encourages advocacy for school reform

4/8/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #205.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (UMNS) - Grass-roots advocacy is essential for continued school 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 the April 4-7 meeting of the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He was named in March as the new president and chief executive officer of the International Youth Foundation.

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

Hornbeck offered a quick overview of school reform, starting in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. the Board of Education opened the door to school integration. Subsequent educational changes included adoption of Title I, the report on "A Nation at Risk," and the move toward establishing 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 Child Left Behind," he said.

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

Institutions affected by the new criteria of what is considered "failing" are not just the obvious ones, Hornbeck pointed out to directors. When he served as superintendent of the Philadelphia school system, a school that was considered highly desirable was put on the failing list. Although the required average was good, students at the bottom of the academic rung had not shown improvement.

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

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

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

But an infrastructure for such advocacy is essential, Hornbeck told directors. He believes that the concept demonstrated by Good Schools Pennsylvania, a grass-roots focus on improved public education, could translate effectively to other states.

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

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