« Thank you, George Bush... | Main | Raising the Bar on Professional Development »

My Open Letter to Arne Duncan

| 6 Comments

Dear Mr. Secretary,

Congratulations on your appointment as President Obama's Secretary of Education.

Thank you for sending the message that you want to address and fix elements of NCLB rather than scrap the entire piece of legislation.  While I am not as supportive as some, I do agree that NCLB started a meaningful revolution that has pushed the evolution of our educational system forward.

Thank you also for expressing the fact that you want to rename the legislation.  I cannot recall any other legislative title that has been so misleading in its use (if not original intention).  As a principal working with at-risk high school students I am faced daily with the task of helping to motivate students who do not fit within the traditional system.  I work with the kids who have failed the state mandated tests and face the reality of not receiving their diplomas. Each year I have witnessed the expanding bubble of students who cannot pass a portion of the high stakes testing mandated in one form or another to the states.

I am the man who sits across from the crying student who has failed a test multiple times and realizes that...

they have just been left behind.

NCLB has possibly driven more students out of the system and left demoralized kids pondering their futures without a diploma than any other single action taken by our educational system since its inception.  And it is not just individual students.  Your own department's statistics clearly indicate that AYP (as currently implemented) is labeling more and more schools as unacceptable. 

Your three points of expanding early childhood education, creating better student assessments, and improving teacher quality are excellent starting points for your planned national discussions.

I argue that NCLB has restricted student choices and options by too limited an application of research and best practices.  Somehow excellent pedagogy has become the new dogma - non-negotiable and non-adaptable.  The opportunities for early childhood education (and success) are out there...well-developed assessments are available...and I would posit that our teachers are increasingly among the most highly skilled and knowledgeable in the world when it comes to effective methodology.

So what's missing?  NCLB has taken the art and heart out of education.  Ask the students. Learning is no longer fun.  The pressures are immense.  The anxiety attacks of elementary-aged children are testimony that while we may be on-track with what research tells us about learning theory, but we are destroying the true underlying motivations for learning - a child's natural joy, curiosity, excitement, and desire to explore and grow.

If you can find a way to re-introduce - or combine - what is right with No Child Left Behind with every student's innate desire to learn, then...and only then...will we as a nation begin to have an educational system that does not leave a single - not ONE - child by the roadside.

How can we do this?  I sincerely believe that any educational legislation must allow for more Options and Choices.  We have become far too restrictive in our final accountability standards. Does anyone truly believe we will have 100% mastery of subject area knowledge by 100% of our students by 2012, 2013, or 2014.  Noble? Yes? A worthwhile "ideal" target? Absolutely.  Realistic? No.  I have never met another parent, professor, politician, or educator who believes that it is. 

But what about legislation that paves the way for every child to be prepared to take advantage of new learning opportunities that arise over their lifetime?  What about legislation that somehow encourages everyone to develop abilities to disregard information as it becomes out-dated and acquire new knowledge as it is discovered?  Wouldn't that be a logical life-skill to encourage among all children?  It would certainly be a starting point for better surviving in Friedman's flat world of global revolution in communication and technology.

Mr. Secretary, as you move forward with your plans to evaluate and re-think NCLB, please consider revisions that emphasize OPTIONS, CHOICES, and ALTERNATIVES for all students.  Think less in terms of INCENTIVES and more in terms of INNOVATIONS.

Please redefine certain critical attributes of needed educational reform.

Redefine success.  Please do not restrict success to passing scores on the types of summative assessments currently so wide spread.  Success must be measured in ways other than pencil and paper tests.

Redefine gifted to include the TOTAL CHILD and promote academic as well as esoteric learning accomplishments.  (You are no doubt familiar with Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.)

Redefine all time lines.  Learning does not - and never has - occur exclusively between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm Monday through Friday...everything one needs to learn may, or may not, fit into a kindergarten through senior 13-year window.

In closing, I would like to share the input of one group and encourage you to visit their work.  As you begin your dialog with leaders around the nation, there is a powerful document a group of superintendents in Texas have published.  Working under the name of The Visioning Institute, their brief document is titled Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas - A Work in Progress for Conversation and Further Development.  The true beauty of the document is that it does not dodge, run from, or argue against the continued need for accountability and testing.  The document does not call for an end to monitoring student achievement and holding staffs, schools, and districts accountable for results.  The document consists of Six Articles.  Under each Article, profound and positive changes to the educational system are outlined and specific actions are recommended.

Again, congratulations on your appointment. I sincerely believe you are taking the task of Education Secretary at a historic crossroads at which the motivation and abilities of this nation's educators come together ready to support and implement meaningful reform, renovation, and recreation of the educational opportunities we want all our children to successfully experience.

Greg Farr

6 Comments

Nice letter. Let's hope we can work toward a better education system where the whole child is included!

Greg,

I agree that NCLB - or the panic that it produced - has meant that we have gambled everything on "the Head," and abandoned "the Heart," which is the key to education. The Turnaround Challenge, and implicitly, the excellent work from the CEP, explain why NCLB-type accountability has most damaged the poor kids that it was supposed to help. Instruction-driven reforms that raise performance in elementary, lower poverty, and magnet schools are inherently incapable of addressing the complex ecosystems of high poverty NEIGHBORHOOD schools. Those curriculum-driven "best practices" might be appropirate for high poverty secondary schools, but only after we have built an infrastructure of caring and trusting relationships. With NCLB, though, we have flooded schools with resources for instruction, but that money will continue to be wasted until we make the investments required to create a learning culture in NEIGHBORHOOD schools.

I strongly disagree with the previous post about thanking George Bush, but I understand where the author in coming from. She and I are in the same district. Walk through the two high schools where she was principal and you see a dedicated staff teaching effectively in high poverty magnet schools. I know because some of those teachers used to teach at my school, before they were burned out by the failed policies encouraged by NCLB. Those teachers are very committed to the principles learned in professional development that she cited, and they take advantage of the opportunity to use them.

But NCLB has devasted my school. Now, I've been told, we are the lowest performing high school in the state, and it was the policies initiated by NCLB that did much of the harm.

If we were tested today, the scores of about 1/6th of my students would be counted for NCLB. By spring, I estimate that 1/7th of my students will not be excluded due to the ELL, IEP, or highly mmobile staus. Why can't we invest in the 5/6ths or 6/7ths of my students who are irrelevant under NCLB? Aren't they human beings? In fact, why can't we use our expensive data systems to locate and serve our highly mobile and chronically absent students in elementary school before the problem explodes?

We need community schools that get our students out into the community and gets community services into the schools. Most of us can agree on that. But as long as we have NCLB-type accountability, I expect a single-minded and failed concentration on instruction, and a continuing of policies that show extreme disrespect for the humanity of students in the poor NEIGHBORHOOD schools.

Greg,

I agree that NCLB - or the panic that it produced - has meant that we have gambled everything on "the Head," and abandoned "the Heart," which is the key to education. The Turnaround Challenge, and implicitly, the excellent work from the CEP, explain why NCLB-type accountability has most damaged the poor kids that it was supposed to help. Instruction-driven reforms that raise performance in elementary, lower poverty, and magnet schools are inherently incapable of addressing the complex ecosystems of high poverty NEIGHBORHOOD schools. Those curriculum-driven "best practices" might be appropirate for high poverty secondary schools, but only after we have built an infrastructure of caring and trusting relationships. With NCLB, though, we have flooded schools with resources for instruction, but that money will continue to be wasted until we make the investments required to create a learning culture in NEIGHBORHOOD schools.

I strongly disagree with the previous post about thanking George Bush, but I understand where the author in coming from. She and I are in the same district. Walk through the two high schools where she was principal and you see a dedicated staff teaching effectively in high poverty magnet schools. I know because some of those teachers used to teach at my school, before they were burned out by the failed policies encouraged by NCLB. Those teachers are very committed to the principles learned in professional development that she cited, and they take advantage of the opportunity to use them.

But NCLB has devasted my school. Now, I've been told, we are the lowest performing high school in the state, and it was the policies initiated by NCLB that did much of the harm.

If we were tested today, the scores of about 1/6th of my students would be counted for NCLB. By spring, I estimate that 1/7th of my students will not be excluded due to the ELL, IEP, or highly mmobile staus. Why can't we invest in the 5/6ths or 6/7ths of my students who are irrelevant under NCLB? Aren't they human beings? In fact, why can't we use our expensive data systems to locate and serve our highly mobile and chronically absent students in elementary school before the problem explodes?

We need community schools that get our students out into the community and gets community services into the schools. Most of us can agree on that. But as long as we have NCLB-type accountability, I expect a single-minded and failed concentration on instruction, and a continuing of policies that show extreme disrespect for the humanity of students in the poor NEIGHBORHOOD schools.

It seems to me that NCLB simply shone a light on conditions that already existed. Greg, you state that, "NCLB has possibly driven more students out of the system and left demoralized kids pondering their futures without a diploma than any other single action taken by our educational system since its inception." So, before NCLB, were these same students better off because they got a diploma that was based solely on getting X number of credits, not based on any agreed upon criteria? Changes in NCLB are needed and, I agree, should begin with modifying that 100% goal to realistic increments.

I'm not sure how we can come up with a system that accurately measures some of the goals you outline. Paper and pencil tests are hard to avoid when seeking an efficient method for measuring progress. Hopefully the debate for renewal and revision of NCLB will include voices from all over the educational landscape so that productive modifications are employed.


Greg,

I just read your open letter to Secretary Duncan and, as a 37 year veteran of academia, I cannot agree more with your premise. Our system, as it exists, is not meeting the needs of either the students or society. In my lifetime, I have watched us slide from a position of leadership in education into mediocrity. However, mandating quality and threatening punitive action for failing to meet these mandates is not, nor with it ever be, a viable option. Your observation that NCLB has taken the "heart" out of learning is dead on the mark. My career in research, practice, and teaching began with teachers like Ms. Waddell, Mr. Marks, and Ms. Bizzell, each of whom made education an adventure to be enjoyed rather than simply endured. The basics of instruction are necessary - one cannot build a Taj Mahal without an appropriate foundation. However, laying a foundation of facts with stories about why they are significant and how they can be fascinating renders them real, relevant, and fun. If a student sees their education as a "neverending story", they will anticipate coming to school and will internalize what they learn because it has real meaning to them as individuals, not as a herd.

I agree with what you wrote and wish to add my voice to the call for innovation in education. I do not propose that we eliminate the existing system. That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water, but I do support opening the system up to options and innovations. That way, every child will have the option of an approach that suits their needs and, one day, we may indeed have a flexible system that will leave no child behind.

Greg:
Thank you for writing the open letter to the new secretary. I too am an educator of 37 years. I work in a district devoted to meeting the needs of young people. Many of us are frustrated with the emphasis on testing when there is so much for students to learn and there is such joy in learning. I believe multiple assessments are the way to go -- where students have choices about how they prove what they know. These could be traditional tests or more project-based and demonstration-based. Certainly they should incorporate the use of technology. The revised federal law could be an enlightened way for teachers and students to be in a learning compact rather than a testing compact.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

  • Ellen Bell: Greg: Thank you for writing the open letter to the read more
  • Dr. Michael Robinson: Greg, I just read your open letter to Secretary Duncan read more
  • Daniel Winters: It seems to me that NCLB simply shone a light read more
  • john thompson: Greg, I agree that NCLB - or the panic that read more
  • john thompson: Greg, I agree that NCLB - or the panic that read more

Archives

Categories

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Tags

#ccko9
#eci831
#ic3s21
#passiondriven
1:1
1:1 laptops
21st century
21st Century
21st Century Schools
21st Century Skills
21st Century skills
Abraham Lincoln
Accountability
accountabilty
adifference
administrator
Adolescent Literacy Panel
advice
aldonza
aleccouros
Alfie Kohn
Angela Maiers
aptitude
Arthur Benjamin
Artists
Arts
ASCD
Assessment
astronaut
Author
avatar
basketball
Beyond Discipline
Blog
blogging
blogs
boss
calculus
Capacity
Career and College Readiness
Carnegie Foundation
CEDS
Cell Phones
Challenge
Change
change
Charleston Children's Museum
Chris Anderson
CIES
class blogs
Clay Shirky
College
Colonel Eileen Collins
commenting
commitment
communication
community
Community
comparative
compassion
compensation
Comprehension
Comprhension
computers in the classroom
Constructivism
cookie
Copyright_infringement
Copyright_laws
Council of Conscience
creativity
Creativity
Creativity Conversation
Creativity Index
Cultivate
Dan Pink
death valley
Decision making
dennisar
Derailed
Disruptive Innovation
Divergent
dkuropatwa
Don Quixote
Dr. Jeff
Dr. Jeff Goldstein
Drive
dulcinea
Education
education
Education in the United States
educational change
Educational Leadership
educational leadership
educational technology leadership
Educators
effectiveness
Element
empathy
Enactivism
energy savings
Engage
Engineering
engineering
evaluation
evernote
evsc
Facebook
failure
Feedback
Festival
Film festival
firing
formative and summative assessments
Frank Smith
friendship
Future
Garr Reynolds
georgesiemens
Global
Golden Rule
Grades
green technology
heart
heart of a teacher
High school
high school
Higher Education
Higher Order Thinking Skills
hire
history
HOME
Home School Partnership
Homework
hospitals
humility
I Notice
Ian Jukes
Ideas
Identity crisis
imagination
Improvement
improvement
Indexing
influence
innovation
Innovation
innovation3
innovation3 llc
inspiration
instructional leadership
Interests
international
International Society for Technology in Education
interview
ipad
ISTE
Jayson Richardson
job
Job Readiness
John Seely Brown
K through 12
K-8
Karen Armstrong
karl fisch
kellychristopherson
Kent
leaderhhip coaching
leadershiop
Leadership
leadership
leadership development
leadership management influence
Leadership Resources
lean
learning
Learning
Learning 21st Century
legislation
Lifelong learning
Literacy
Literacy and Learning
Love
Man of La Mancha
management
math
math education
mathematics
Mathematics
mboe
Media literacy
medicine
mentoring
merit pay
mguhlin
Michael Watkins
Minds on Fire
moodle
Motivation
Movies
Multiple choice
NAESP
NASA
national educational technology plan
National Governors Association
NCESSE
Neil Rochelle
netbooks
NETS-A
Norma Rae
Nurture
Obama
one to one
online
online learning
Online Software
Originality
osu
Paradoxical Commandments
Parent Invovlement
Parent Partnership
passion
Passion Driven Classroom
Passion Education
Passion Leadership
performance
pete reilly
peter o'toole
Peter Senge
plagiarism
pln
PLN
plurk
Positive feedback
power
preconceptions
President Kennedy
principal
Principal
principal preparation
priorities
probability
Problem Solving
productivity
Professional development
publishing
read/write web
Reading
Reading Next
Reflection
reform
religion
reorganization
research
saving IT dollars
Schedules
school leadership
School Reform
schooling
Science
science
Scott McCloud
Scott McLeod
Second Life
self management
Seth Godin
Shall We Dance?
Shanghai
SIF
sir ken robinson
Sir Ken Robinson
SLC
Social Media
Social Networking
sophia loren
Standardized test
statistics
STEM
stephaniepacemarshall
stephendownes
strategy leadership
student achievement
student led conferences
suffering
summer
Switzerland
systemic change
teacher
Teacher
Teacher Professional Development
teachers
Teachers College Columbia University
teaching
Technology
technology
technology change
Technology integration
technology research
TED
TED Prize
textbooks
The First 90 Days
thin client
Thinking
Thomas Dewey
Tim Irwin
time management
Time To Act
transformation
transformative change
transitions
Tribes-We Need You To Lead Us
twitter
Twitter
Uniqueness
United States
University
University of Alabama-Birmingham
University of Kentucky
vacation
Value
Vision
vision
Wagner
walkthroughs
Web 2.0
Web Filtering
Webinar
weighting
Whole New Mind
wisdom
Wordle
workforce
World Read Aloud Day
Young People