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Washington Movers Chart Big Changes for K-12 Policy


Yesterday, I pointed out that people as diverse as Margaret Spellings and Randi Weingarten are floating ideas that will inform NCLB's reauthorization. Today, I can report that some old hands in Washington are thinking of way to do the same thing.

At a panel discussion organized by Education Sector, Jack Jennings said that his Center on Education Policy is organizing a group that will recommend new directions for federal K-12 policy. "We're going to fundamentally rethink the federal role in education," said Jennings, who worked for House Democrats from 1967 through 1994 and has been the Center on Education Policy's leader since then. He expects his group will issue a report in January—just in time for a new administration to read it.

For her part, Kati Haycock of the Education Trust is looking to create education's version of the National Institutes of Health. "What passes for evidence [in education] is pathetic," she said. She's also trying to find ways to get teachers the curricula and materials they say they need, citing their desire for clear definition of what to teach. What they really want is national standards, she said.

I must say that my recent items (see here and here) that House leaders are pessimistic on NCLB's prospects this year has sparked a small existential crisis for my inner blogger. If the Senate doesn't succeed, what's my purpose as a blogger about NCLB reauthorization?

After this week's events, I convinced that I won't lack for important ideas and events to write about if until Congress gets the law reauthorized, even if that takes until 2010.

AN AFTERTHOUGHT: Samuel Halperin provides some context for those who think the stakes are high in this NCLB reauthorization. At today's event, he talked about how K-12 bills stalled in Congress for a decade because Southerners blocked efforts to tie federal aid to the desegregation of their schools. The debate over "differential accountability" and the universal proficiency seems small by comparison.


It is my hope that there will really be substantative conversations around the reauthorization of NCLB soon. There is much ground to cover and many issues that need to be addressed. My work is directly impacted by the implementation of NCLB in the state of California. Some suggestions for modifications to the legislation would be as follows:
1. A consistent definition of "proficient" across all 50 states.
2. Acceptance of state growth models based on relevant data.
3. Extension of the "date of fulfillment" from 2014 to a more reasonable target.
4. Funding to support the necessary work at the district and site level.

These are some beginnings to the conversation that I feel are extremely important. As an active member of the educational community, it is my hope that congress will hear from us and not just listen to lobbyists who may or may not be representing the clearest picture of the situation at the ground level.


I just listened to the Ed Sector discussion and Jenning's announcement is great news. I'm not criticizing Samuel Halperin who is an excellent public servant, but his statement illustrated why NCLB backfired. Too many liberal supporters of NCLB are trapped in the past. Its like the umpire who said, "I call balls and strike." An older umpire said, "I call them like I see them." The veteran umpire said, "I call them the way I remember them."

Education is a civil rights issue, but its not like the crusade they remember. If we see education as a 1960s civil rights issue, how to we relate to people who we see as wrong in their methods of addressing students' rights? I take liberal supporters of NCLB at their words when they complain that teachers and the unions are violating the rights of kids. In other words, they not only believe we are wrong, but also morally wrong.

And the opposite applies, I don't want to get too defensive when my profession and union are attacked. For years, I was angered by just about everything published by the Education Trust, interpreting their "research" as a thinly veiled accusations that teachers through their racism were standing in the courthouse door. But today I learned something from Katie Haycock who said that their "hopes were bigger than reality" and they tried to "hitch" Standards to Equity. "What will it take? Darned if I know." A statement like that gives us an opportunity for discussion, such as whether National Standards is a viable route to equity. That's an issue where we can disagree without secretly believing that our opponent is morally flawed. (Why such a strategy ever made sense is beyond me, but she was sounding gracious and I should be so also.)

Then Andrew Rotherham asked two huge questions. Whether we can move away from using federal law as leverage for national change to providing incentives? Then how do we pull various aspects of social investments out of their "silos" and provide comprehensive services? Again that's a huge improvement because a) they are considering approaches other than coercion b) they aren't blaming the ills of society on schools, teachers, and unions, and c) once we address the complexity of generational poverty and education we can start to get results.

But they still concentrated on curriculum-driven approaches. Despite The Turnaround Challenge's conclusion that curriculum-driven approaches can't work in the toughest schools and despite Jennings reminder that we have little knowledge about how to turn around those schools, the Ed Sector and the Ed Trust still seem committed to a strategy that emphasizes "the Head" over "the Heart."

That gets me to the punch line, the wise old umpire said, "They ain't nothing until I call them." We teachers need that confidence. We should remember Jenning's statement that NCLB antagonized the foot soldiers that would be needed to improve schools. We, not the policy people, have the expertise. Which is why we should listen to the teacher on the panel who said ... Just kidding there was no teacher on the panel. Anyway, it was a good start. If it took so many years for liberals to overcome Jim Crow, then it may take that long for liberal teachers organizations to overcome the stubbornness of liberal policy makers.

I would wager that the foot soldiers include schools' two main constituents, parents and teachers, and NCLB hasn't really reached out to either group but rather put them too often in adversarial positions.

A respect for teaching and teachers seems absent in the law's implementation. Maybe that's too strong a statement, but if teachers, as you said, are the ones truly carrying out NCLB, then their help needs to be drafted, in a positive and constructive fashion.

I also think the issues of race that Obama so boldly raised enters in here. We can tinker with curriculum all we want, but if the parents aren't there and the school building is crumbling and the materials are worthless, then what use is a tightened curriculum?

We have to start with the people. We have to prepare teachers for a variety of schools, including the roughest.

I like the concept of a "national institutes of health" for education, where a higher quality of research anda more unbiased use of it might prevail.

But even that needs to clearly involve on the ground, classroom teachers--to include their best practices, 21st century uses of embedded technology, project based learning, and ways to engage students and to personalize instruction not to meet the needs of a test, but of the individual student.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Carolyn F.: I would wager that the foot soldiers include schools' two read more
  • john thompson: David, I just listened to the Ed Sector discussion and read more
  • Theresa Rouse: It is my hope that there will really be substantative read more



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