SANTA CLARITA – Howard “Buck” McKeon has been a key supporter of No Child Left Behind, but the Republican congressman acknowledged in a panel discussion this week that the 2002 act has shortcomings. “No Child Left Behind is not perfect,” said McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in a talk Wednesday at the Santa Clarita Activities Center with school district officials from the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys. A goal of the discussion was to talk about ways to improve the No Child Left Behind Act as it heads toward a vote on reauthorization. The act is President George W. Bush’s signature education reform plan, designed to bring every student in the United States up to basic reading, writing and arithmetic standards inside a decade. Many educators have criticized it as an unrealistic goal that interferes with traditional teaching by forcing educators to teach to a set of standardized tests. Supporters, however, say it has focused the education community on raising achievement standards across the board. McKeon got plenty of feedback from teachers, principals, superintendents and others during the discussion, which drew about 80 audience members. Howard Sundberg, superintendent of the Lancaster School District, suggested lengthening the school day, and educating parents so they can help their children academically. A number of panelists talked about getting more qualified teachers, and how teaching and school administration would attract more talented individuals if society valued those jobs. Mark Gross, principal at Joshua Elementary School in Lancaster and a member of the Palmdale school board, said students’ home environment should be considered. “When we talk about education, the discussion cannot end at the school door,” he said. “We have to look at our communities and what we can do to support them.” Some participants praised the act for holding schools more accountable. “This is the country that created the (Tennessee Valley Authority) and built the Hoover Dam and put a man on the moon,” said Larry Heath, principal of McGrath Elementary School in Newhall. “And to say that we can’t get our sixth-graders performing at sixth-grade level is a disgrace.” But even though Heath supports the act, he questioned a portion of it that would eventually require all students to be proficient in English and math. He talked about his own developmentally disabled son, and how he was happy if the education system could just teach him how to use the bus and be independent. “Never in the history of public education did you have 100percent of your children proficient at grade level,” Heath said. “There was always children that didn’t do as well, so you have to set that bar at a reasonable level.” McKeon, who is the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, has participated in similar round-table discussions around the country about the act. On March 13, the House and the Senate will open hearings on the act as it comes up for re-authorization. While the re-authorization process will take into account people’s concerns about the act, McKeon said it remains important. He spoke of a new student at West Point who had been a high school valedictorian when he entered the military academy but had to do remedial class work because his academic skills were lacking. The student came from a state with low academic standards. “He was shocked to find out that he wasn’t the student that he thought he was,” McKeon said. “That’s not fair; that’s not right. That’s what we’re trying to address with No Child Left Behind.” [email protected] (661) 257-5253160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!