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Senate Distributes Partial Draft

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Senate aides last night circulated a discussion draft of sections of NCLB. The draft addresses issues that aren't controversial, avoiding topics such accountability and teacher pay. Both Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the panel's senior Republican, endorsed the draft.

Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for the HELP Committee, e-mailed this response to my query about the process:

"Chairman Kennedy is pleased that progress has been made, working with committee members, on many issues related to this reauthorization. The draft legislative language released yesterday includes many improvements to current law, but much remains to be done on key issues, including accountability and teacher quality. Chairman Kennedy looks forward to working with committee members on addressing these issues and making further improvements in the coming weeks."

Sens. Kennedy and Enzi often work closely to identify areas where they agree and focus on those first, leaving the controversial stuff for later. The new draft shows that they are working together and are serious about moving a bill.

Sorry for the lack of links. The HELP Committee distributed the draft to interested parties. (I wasn't one of them.) The committee did not publish the draft online.

3 Comments

Mr. Hoff – As someone who has worked in public education for over thirty years it is increasingly apparent that the failure of the public schools to adequately educate children has more to do with an inadequate theory of how education works as it does with shoddy execution. Advances in neuroimaging in the past dozen years have allowed us a deeper, more detailed understanding of infant development and attachment that have profound, if widely ignored, implications for education.

Education literally begins in the third trimester of pregnancy and potentially continues until death. The way in which a human being learns does not change simply because we put a child into a specialized setting (school) that concerns itself primarily with the conveyance of cognitive concepts. Recent reports decry the fact that schools are not teaching children skills in cooperation and creativity as if these things (processes actually) are on the same order as math facts.

The ability to cooperate with other people is an attachment skill, the rudiments of which must be learned in the first two years of life in conjunction with a primary caregiver who helps the child learn adequate affect regulatory mechanisms. In essence, affect regulation and social skills are two sides of the same coin and that particular die is cast long before the child arrives at the school house door. That teachers are, without the benefit of any theory or training, being expected to retrofit children with the adequate affect regulatory schema that will allow them to focus on the acquisition of cognitive knowledge that does not serve their immediate survival needs is beyond absurd.

We would like to pretend that every child who comes to us is a "student" while ignoring the fact that in order to be a student you have to be able to accept teachers as parent substitutes, have adequate impulse control, a capacity for delay of gratification, and sufficient free attention to learn material whose future value you have to take on faith. A well regulated, secure attached child makes it look easy. The fact that, at least in my particular urban district, ever fewer children seem to be arriving in our kindergartens in this happy condition gives me pause. The fact that education bureaucrats both at the federal and state levels looks at the emotional receptivity of alleged students as a mere "excuse" by which schools seek to justify poor teacher performance is maddening. In an oversimplified example, a hundred thousand watt transmitter will not be more likely to reach a broken receiver by increasing the output to two hundred thousand watts.

Until the education establishment comes to terms with a unified theory of the person as an integrated cognitive/emotional/sensorimotor creature schools will be subject to unrealistic expectations and, more importantly, pursue misguided methods. Very little attention is paid and less money spent on children between the ages of birth and two years when our brains are most impressionable and when we acquire the affective structures on which our cognitive education depends.

Philip L. Curtin, LICSW
Coordinator of Social Work Services
Title I Programs
Lowell Public Schools

Thank you, Mr. Curtin! This is what I have been trying to express to others within my profession (and outside my profession) for years and was unable to adequately put into words. Speaking as a parent, a teacher of more than 10 years and currently as a participant in state level education policy, you have hit the nail on the head!

Education is about teaching whole children. NCLB's hypervigilant focus on upping the content area curriculum ante to the exclusion of teaching the whole cognitive and social-emotional being leaves me disturbed. As to its equally Spock-like reduction of teachers to "quality" machines as defined by politicians, I am equally unnerved. I agree with Mr. Curtin.
One recommendation for improving education is to focus our attention and efforts on hiring different leaders. We need educational leaders with clinical backgrounds, so that whole children and whole teachers can be supported. Mr. Curtin, will you apply?

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