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Education Week Roundup, Oct. 24

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Even though lawmakers aren't making news about the future of NCLB, the current issue of Education Week includes stories that touch on the hallmarks of the law: accountability, improving reading skills of the lowest-performing students, and rewarding teachers for improving students' test scores. Throw in a commentary about narrowing the curriculum, and you've got a full plate of NCLB in front of you.

As for the news, Alyson Klein writes about the looming budget faceoff between Democrats and President Bush (Bush, Democrats Face Education Spending Showdown). I've already blogged about the story here, mentioning that it is too soon to predict the outcome.

I wrapped up many items from this blog for my story (Bush Says He Would Veto NCLB Reauthorization Bill That Lacked Key Elements). One piece of news that hadn't made the blog is the meeting between leading House Democrats and Republicans last week. I hear they plan to meet again this week. For the last week's highlights on the blog, see here, here, and here.

To check out Canadian-style accountability, Lynn Olson traveled to Ontario. "The province's education strategy focuses less on public rating and rankings of schools and more on identifying and spreading effective practices from the ground up," she reports (Ontario Pins Hopes on Practices, Not Testing, to Achieve). One key ingredient is to hire "student success teachers" to advocate for high school students. Another is to add art, music, and gym teachers to free up elementary school teachers for curricular planning.

Back in the United States, big-city districts are starting to focus their Reading First dollars on serving English-language learners (Reading Aid Seen to Lag in ELL Focus). Those efforts may be mandatory for all if Congress adopts two words currently in the House NCLB draft. The proposal would require Reading First services to be "linguistically appropriate" for students, Mary Ann Zehr reports.

"Is Reading First working," Kathleen Kennedy Manzo asks ('Reading First' Panel Awaits Program Evaluation Report). The answer may be in four forthcoming evaluations of the $1 billion-a-year program.

Vaishali Honawar points out that New York City's merit-pay plan announced last week "is based almost entirely on raising student test scores" (N.Y.C. Unveils Merit-Pay Plan for Teachers in High-Need Schools). The NEA might not be happy to hear about that, judging from previous comments.

Finally, on the Commentary page, S. Paul Reville has an answer to complaints that NCLB and other accountability measures narrow the curriculum (Stop the Narrowing of the Curriculum By 'Right-Sizing' School Time). "A reauthorized NCLB could strike a major blow for equity by breaking the barriers of our one-size-fits-all time paradigm," Reville writes. "The next phase of education reform should begin with leaders calibrating the time requirements necessary to broadly and fully educate all children to sufficiently high standards to participate, thrive, and succeed in our society."

1 Comment

Everything in Paul Reville’s commentary makes sense to this inner city high school teacher except one conclusion. Based on his logic and evidence we should abandon NCLB. NCLB makes sense only if you believe that its crude accountability must be the cornerstone of any effort to get more money to poor schools. But if we just redefine accountability as one component of reform, numerous opportunities arise.

More time is the answer. OK, show us the money. More than a dozen years of his efforts to “right size the school day” have made little progress. Now that we’ve spent tens of billions of on a law than has done little more than start a conversation, and which may be damaging the poorest children, how does reauthorization create an ideal opportunity? Wasting more billions, and forcing more poor kids out of school by narrowing the curriculum and imposing non-stop test prep, will persuade legislators to invest billions more?

Its easy for someone in the rich state of Massachusetts to stay the course, but how many generations of my poor district’s poor students must be sacrificed to that political approach? My attitude on this is comparable to my attitude toward high stakes standardized testing. If you like those strategies, use them in your own state or your own classroom. But unless you can get 51% of my state legislature, or you can replace my proven approach of REAL rigor, relevance, and two decades of relationships, don’t impose either on my kids.

The narrowing of the curriculum is less destructive than the imposition of test prep for primitive standardized test. And the logic of NCLB is comparable. Better tests will reduce the damage. But again, show us the better test. And show us the money for it.

Education Week had an excellent quote by Reville, “We don’t want kids sitting in their desks racing to finish a six-hour day until they get to some physical activity, art, or music.” I agree, and neither do we want them waiting six hours a day for another 12 years for the money.

I don’t doubt that NCLB has helped poor kids in districts that have two or three times the money, per capita, of mine. A much better way to pry open the budget in my conservative state would be a collaborative effort to teach the whole child, show some real results, adopt a reasonable accountability system, and get back to real rigor, relevance, and relationships for poor kids in poor districts - not just poor kids in rich districts.

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