COLUMBUS, Ohio – Five teachers took their gripes about the No Child Left Behind Act straight to the top on Tuesday, questioning first lady Laura Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings about the federal law designed to boost student performance.
"This is the week for people to hear what teachers need," Mrs. Bush said at the only round-table discussion featuring her and Spellings in a series of meetings education officials are holding in Ohio and four other states to observe Celebrating Teachers Week.
The Columbus public school teachers — whose classes include kindergarten, advanced high school physics and children with impaired hearing — said they like the idea of raising standards for students and holding teachers accountable, and being able to compare their classrooms' test scores with nationwide data.
But they need more professional training to deal with students who have emotional problems and learning disabilities, or who speak English as a second language, they said. They added that tests required under the law should be rewritten for specific subgroups of children, such as the disabled.
Kathy McPike, who teaches hearing-impaired children at Alpine Elementary School, said it's unfair for special education students to take the same test as other students the same age. "They work so hard," she said.
"That's a concern of ours," Mrs. Bush said, nodding.
Spellings said the example shows how much work the federal government has to do to fine-tune the test.
Frances Penn, a kindergarten teacher at Woodcrest Elementary, said she was pleased with the advances No Child Left Behind has brought to her classroom through more advanced curriculum standards even at the youngest ages.
"The children rise to the occasion," she said. "Even though I once taught the material in first grade and now it's kindergarten material, they get it. They get it," she said.
Their voices controlled, even hushed, as they spoke, the giddy teachers jumped up and down and congratulated each other after Spellings and the first lady left. "We did it!" they exclaimed.
Bush and Spellings next attended a fundraising lunch for U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce, a Columbus-area Republican who faces no opposition in Tuesday's primary but is being targeted by Democrats in November.