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Teachers Grapple with Attaining Education Law’s Goals

The third and final installment in NewsHour education special correspondent John Merrow's series looks at how some of the country's best teachers are dealing with the No Child Left Behind law.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now our series on the No Child Left Behind law. In tonight's third and final report, how some of the country's best teachers are responding to the law. Here again is the work of our special correspondent for education, John Merrow.

  • ANTHONY CODY, Teacher:

    Solar energy is a huge topic, so it affects a lot of things.

    JOHN MERROW, Special Correspondent for Education: We first met Anthony Cody in 1999, when he was teaching science at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland, California.

  • ANTHONY CODY:

    There are some investigations that we've already begun using shadows and using the sun.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    A gifted teacher, Cody is nationally certified, a distinction that only 2 percent of teachers ever attain. And Cody shared his expertise mentoring other teachers.

  • ANTHONY CODY:

    As a teacher, my first priority is my own 90-some students. But thinking broadly, I really try to work with other teachers across the district. And I can reach more students in that way, by supporting new teachers, trying to give them some fresh ideas to work with in the classroom.

    So the shadow starts where?

  • STUDENT:

    From the base of the thing.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Eight years have passed, and when we caught up with Anthony Cody this time, his outlook had changed.

  • ANTHONY CODY:

    I'm seeing a lot of desperation on the part of teachers, a lot of frustration. Out of the group of six teachers that I've worked with for a long time, only one is still in the classroom.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Cody believes the change in teacher morale dates back to 2002 and the No Child Left Behind law.

  • ANTHONY CODY:

    No Child Left Behind has cast a pall over the whole urban educational system. It has created unrealistic expectations and punished us for not meeting them.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    The U.S. secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, says that, before the law, many problems were being ignored.

    MARGARET SPELLINGS, U.S. Secretary of Education: We were leaving thousands and thousands — millions of kids behind. We had the ostrich approach when it came to them. And now, all of a sudden, we have an intensity around meeting their needs, and it's making people uncomfortable.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Under the law, children in grades three though eight are expected to perform at grade level on multiple choice tests. But many of Anthony Cody's students were already three and even four grades behind when they arrived in his classroom.

  • ANTHONY CODY:

    If I say that No Child Left Behind sets unrealistic goals, then the very name of the law says that, by implication, I am leaving children behind. I am not interested in leaving anyone behind, but I'm not going to say that I am a failure because he came to me reading at the fourth-grade level and I've only managed to move him up to the fifth- or sixth-grade level in one year.

    You know, I'm not going to say that he's a failure. I'm not going to say that I'm a failure. But the law says I'm a failure because he's not proficient. He's not at grade level.

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