Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where Does Education Feature For the Next President?

There were two articles in the NY Times about NCLB. One was about Margaret Spellings and her somewhat desperate attempts to get NCLB revamped before Bush (and she) leave office. From the article:

“I’m pretty sure that the new president, whoever it is, will not show up and work on George Bush’s domestic achievement on Day 1,” she (Ms Spellings) told a group of civic leaders and educators, promising to do “everything in my power” to improve the law before the White House changes hands.

For Ms. Spellings, a longtime and exceedingly loyal member of the Bush inner circle, it was a startling, if tacit, admission that the president’s education legacy is in danger. No Child Left Behind — the signature domestic achievement, beyond tax cuts, of the entire Bush presidency — has changed the lives of millions of American students, parents, teachers and school administrators. Yet its future is in grave doubt."

The article goes on:

"Today, roughly 11 percent of schools do not meet the law’s standards — a figure that is expected to climb sharply as more schools struggle to meet the demand that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The bill is so deeply unpopular that Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who was its chief sponsor, often calls No Child Left Behind “the most negative brand in the country.”

A great example of how NCLB didn't work is in this story about Kentucky:

"Kentucky already had what its education commissioner, Jon Draud, calls a “high-stakes accountability program.” But meshing the two “was like putting a slightly round peg into a slightly square hole,” said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for Mr. Draud’s agency.

Kentucky assessed student achievement every two years; No Child demanded it every year. Kentucky tested seven subject areas; the federal law required just reading and math. Kentucky marked progress based on a school’s growth; under No Child Left Behind, a school either passed or failed.

So schools could pass by Kentucky’s standards, but fail by Washington’s. The state pushed back, to no avail. “We said, ‘What you’re proposing is very similar to what Kentucky is already doing, and we have found that it is a much stronger, more reliable system if you do two years’ worth of data as an average, and give schools a little more flexibility,’ ” Ms. Gross said. “They say, ‘Well, that’s not how we want to do it.’ ”

And things got steadily worse to the point where Ted Kennedy (and if you didn't know this, surprise, he was one of NCLB's biggest supporters early on) said this:

“We had reform,” the senator said. “What we needed were resources.”

There's some small degree of concession on Ms. Spellings' part (although not without some irony at least for educators in Kentucky):

"As she travels the country, Ms. Spellings talks up efforts to use her executive powers to address concerns like Mr. Alpiger’s. For instance, she has begun a pilot program allowing certain states to measure progress using a “growth model,” a technique similar to the one that Kentucky was forced to abandon."

So, no, I don't think the next president, either Senator McCain or Senator Obama, will show up to work on NCLB on day one because you see Ms. Spellings, the economy is going south, gas and food prices are escalating at an alarming rate and, oh yeah, we have a war going on...in two different countries. So excuse them if your program - which has shown negligible effects on the achievement gap - isn't the first thing on their list.

I'm sure President Bush would love to leave office with one positive thing on his side but sadly, it doesn't look like that will happen. I know he personally felt NCLB would be his domestic signature but it's just a tepid blip on the radar except for the millions of people whose lives it affects.

You said, “This is my child, my baby,” she said over dinner in Maysville, Ky., referring to the No Child law." which is a lot of what we hear from our own state superintendent who has hung her hat on our state test the WASL. You two might want to rethink your focus.

So the other article was about the two groups of Dems and their differing ideas on NCLB. From the article:

"On Wednesday, a group of a dozen prominent educators and lawmakers, led by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein of New York and the Rev. Al Sharpton, said the United States’ public schools shortchanged poor black and Latino children in a way that was “shameful,” and urged Washington to squeeze teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement among minorities.

On Tuesday, about 60 prominent educators and academics issued another manifesto, which criticized the federal No Child Left Behind law and argued that schools alone could not close a racial achievement gap rooted in economic inequality. They urged a new emphasis on health clinics and other antipoverty programs that could help poor students arrive at school ready to learn."

The first group had this opinion:

"The statement included a passage labeling teachers union contracts a significant obstacle to increasing the achievement of poor students.

“We must insist that our elected officials confront and address head-on crucial issues that created this crisis: teachers’ contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms and too often make it nearly impossible to get our best teachers paired up with the students who most need them,” it said."

The other group had this to say:

"They called for a “broader, bolder approach” that would increase investment in health and other services in poor communities and rely less exclusively on schools to solve the nation’s social problems.

“Some schools have demonstrated unusual effectiveness,” said the statement, published on Tuesday in paid space in The New York Times and The Washington Post. “But even they cannot, by themselves, close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds.”

“Reducing social and economic disadvantages can also improve achievement,” it said."

Exactly so and this should be in big headlines everywhere - SCHOOLS CAN'T DO IT ALL.

Why NCLB should solve everything is hard to fathom. Why people want to blame schools and teachers solely for lack of student achievement is hard to fathom as well. There are pockets of greatness out there where communities working together make a difference at school that in turn allows the school to do better. One example is from a story I read about Muslim women in Germany who were learning German. Initially, the lessons were given in the late afternoon or early evening which as every mom knows is not a great time of day. So some communities said, why not have mom learn at the same time as her children? They scheduled classes at their child's school with childcare. The outcome? Those parents are more involved in their children's schoolwork and school and guess what? Those kids are doing better in schools than student's whose parents don't speak German.