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Stay-the-Course Strategy Could Preserve NCLB--or Backfire

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“They’d rather stick with what they’ve got than deal with some wholesale retrenchment" on NCLB, Kevin Carey of Education Sector told me yesterday when we discussed Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' graduation-rate announcement.

It may be a good strategy. As I wrote back in January, the law is permanently authorized. If Congress doesn't revise it this year, it might not get to it next year, given that the next president is unlikely to take on K-12 issues as his or her first priority. This law could stay in place without big changes until 2010.

But is that a good long-term strategy? Maybe not. The longer NCLB is out there as it is today, the more the people with vested interests in changing it are going to be motivated to overhaul it.

Take, for example, school board members. As Lawrence Hardy reports over at "Leading Source," NSBA members recently reversed their position on encouraging states to seek federal money to create regional networks that would set common academic standards. The reason: Endorsing such compacts could eventually lead to federal standards. "Washington’s not too popular with school board members right now," Hardy writes. (I think he's understating the sentiment.) That's the case, in large part, because school board members don't like NCLB's rules on accountability and highly qualified teachers.

When Congress gets around to fixing NCLB, school board members will be among the crowd pushing for major changes. And the longer they work under the current law, the more changes they may want in it. The same goes for teacher unions, superintendents, and even members of Congress.

Staying the course may be best for the short term, but not the long term.

3 Comments

If the legislators and the incoming president decide to stay the NCLB course I have only one comment.
In theory, by 2014 NCLB will have academically saved every poor, minority, and disabled child left in the public school system. Does anyone stop to wonder what is likely to happen when all of the schools in a district reach an academic plateau? What do you suppose will happen when frustration mounts as teachers, administrators, and boards of education get to 2012-2013 school year and realize the 2014 finale is here, and students will be left behind? Does anyone believe for one minute that the system is not going to do whatever it takes to ensure that federal dollars are not interrupted?

I hope they stay the course, because its better to fight this law for another two years and drive a stake into its heart. Think of the research in the last year or so that documents the underwhelming positive results of the law.

Then think about this spring's economic downturn. Is there any way that student performance isn't dropping? When the economy goes south, kids bring the resulting fear and trauma to school, and we feel it instantly. Have the supporters of NCLB thought through the results of another two years of disappointing results? Do they think that teachers will stand for another two years of their spin while we address growing problems with less resources?

Ironically, Kevin Carey in his critique of the Slate article on NCLB II actually articulated the best reason to support Jim Ryan's proposal. Carey quibbled about the number of tests, and acknowledged the cost inherent in them. But actual words were comparable to Ryan's. He said tests were necessary for comprehensive, detailed, and comprehensive information and honesty. That's a great argument for Ryan's proposal that we use federal tests for ranking schools, not for sanctions.

A compromise seems obvious and I would think that NCLB supporters would leap at it before their case worsens. Drop the puntitive characteristics based on those few over-arching (and over reaching) tests, and work strong accountability into each other section of the law. Adopt "rifle shot" accountability using multiple measures. Then we can join together on contructive compromises. I'm ready to get started on increased accountability for teachers and administrators. If we had a magic wand, we could decree that the useless data from incompetent tests could only be used to discipline incompetent teachers. But as long as we have the current test-driven accountability hanging over our heads, how far can teachers go in helping remove bad teachers?

As a teacher of Special Ed students, I have seen an increase in mandates with a decrease in money. Teachers are working countless hours to create portfolios for mentally retarded students without compensation. NCLB is behind all this and needs to be withdrawn. All the teachers I work with are sick of being in a straight jacket.

Teaching has become all about testing, testing, testing, testing, and more testing. We were taught not to teach to the test, but that's all we do in practice. The bureaucrats in Washington are out of touch and disconnected with what is happening in our nation's schools.

No Child Left Behind is synonymous with No Money Left Behind. It's needs to be stopped, so that the liberation of our students and teachers can begin. Strike a blow for FREEDOM!

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  • David Kinsella: As a teacher of Special Ed students, I have seen read more
  • john thompson: I hope they stay the course, because its better to read more
  • Kathy: If the legislators and the incoming president decide to stay read more

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