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Your NCLB News of the Day

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Three quick things before I run off and spend the day in downtown D.C.

1. The Center for American Progress holds a one-day conference today on the teacher comparability rules in NCLB's Title I. The center says that the rules are "intended to ensure that federal funds are added to an already-level playing field of state and local funding for schools," but they have "been ineffective and enforced inconsistently." For a primer about how districts sometimes unknowingly funnel Title I dollars to affluent areas, read a story Bess Keller wrote last year and one I wrote back in 2005. I'll be there all day. The panelists look great—and the brownies CAP serves are always excellent.

2. A group made up of 60-plus big names in education today releases a new statement calling for a "broader, bolder approach to education." A central theme is that NCLB assumes that schools are the central ingredient for improving achievement. But the group believes other factors—socioeconomic background, lack of access to other social services, among other reasons—contribute to some students' academic struggles. Of the people who signed it, five used to work for the Clinton administration, and two are in the current Bush administration.

3. In its latest step in reauthorization-through-administrative action, the Department of Education is telling states they can apply to allow districts to offer supplementary services one year before school choice in schools failing to make AYP. That's the reverse of what the law requires. Before last week's notice, only a select few could do this as part of a pilot project. (I'm a bit behind the curve here; Title I Monitor reported this last week.) BoardBuzz is happy with the change but says the move shows that Congress should reauthorize NCLB rather than letting the Bush administration make changes on its own.

1 Comment

David,

I'd of liked to have posted this on The Quick and the Changable. Charlie, however, believes in freedom of the press for those who own the press.

So, here's my reply to his post:

(Charlie)

Again, I liked your graphs. My pencil and paper calculations had told me basically the same story, but I wish that decision-makers had seen a graph like yours back in the early years of NCLB.

And again, the destructive reactions to NCLB did not come the law per se, but the panic that it produced. Had we just taken the money and invested it according to our consciences, NCLB would have been very helpful.

But again, why do you attack teachers and unions? We didn't make the destructive policies of excessive test prep, narrowing the curriculum, and TOP DOWN curriculum pacing and alignment, and the other Cover Your Ass approaches. Polls showed that most teachers, like our union, gave qualified support to NCLB. But when so many central offices across the country chose to comply with NCLB in such destructive ways, union memebrs placed more pressure on their leaders to resist NCLB.

Like my colleauges, I knew that NCLB's accountability system would unleash institutional pressures for those shortcuts, and loopholes to game the system. I was willing to accept the trade-off (not that I had any choice in the matter) because of the new resources, and because I knew that there are no gold tablets in heaven that promise the survival of inner city schools. I did not anticipate, however, that this time educators would react as if they really believed in NCLB-type accountablity. I figured we would take the "same ol'" half-assed approach to compliance, producing the same ol results - incremental gains along with some damage.

IN RETROSPECT, the damage THAT I HAVE SEEN can be explained by:

1. There was no shared sacrifice. The only real sanctions fell on administrators. Now we have much more documentation of the limits of principals in raising performance in high poverty neighborhood schools. But back then (and still in the minds of BloomKlein and Rhee) principals just had to have high expectations and become instructional leaders. Worst, under no rational analysis could central office administrators be expected to raise scores enough for AYP. When people are told to do the impossible, when they have relatively little power to do so, it should be no surprise that a market grew for simplistic CYA programs.

2. That market for quick fixes that could be presnted in bullet points on a Power Point gave birth to a cottage industry of consultants. (Remember the spoofs that were published immediately by veteran educators who recognized what was happening? My favorite satire was for NCLB-compliant furniture.) Armed with Power Point graphics, consultants claimed that schools could overcome the effects of generational poverty and failed schooling by replicating the "best practices" of low poverty schools. In my experience, decision-makers did not check the footnotes (for instance, administrators working 90 hours a week or more did not wrestle with the debate between the Ed Trust and Rothstein, Harris et. al. or ask whether they could afford to implement the practices of successful schools). Huge amounts of money were spent on the basis of Bullet Points - not even the Summaries of position papers.

3. A lot of educators had been persuaded that accountability could be the locomotive of reform, and they committed themselves to a sincere and rigorous approach. I still see the idea that accountability can be a significant CONSTRUCTIVE force as an hypothesis, but I think you guys who REALLY believe in accountability have misread the situation. You should have taken a bow. You should have felt good that you had persuaded so many people. You should have known that the primitive NCLB system would spawn a predictable amount of gaming, but you should have taken it in stride. Perhaps liberal accountability hawks would have taken the more realistic approach required to work with flesh and blood humans, except for the Bushies, who didn't believe in the "old paradigm" which we call reality.

4. The Left copied the Heritage Foundation "No Excuses" approach, learned the wrong lessons from their histories in civil rights, and attempted a "civil rights revolution on the cheap." They attacked teachers as if we were the ones standing in the courthouse door, and further poisoned the environment with shame and blame.

5. A lot of NCLB worked exactly as it was supposed to. I don't question the sincereity of people who really believe that accountability is the key. Mostly though, accountability was just a word that signified toughness. A lot of right wingers just wanted to ridicule public schools. A lot of liberals and moderates thought that they had to overcome the image of Democrats as wimps before they could help education. For the most part, teacher bashing was an end in itself. It wasn't designed to improve instructional practice. It was the politicians' CYA. Combined with all of the reast, is it a surprise that local policy makers focused on your guys CYA and concentrated on their own defence?

When it comes to NCLB II, you can attack everyone who fumbled the ball under NCLB I, try to close loopholes, and generate more fear. That approach will just produce more CYA.

I suspect that the central office reactions to NCLB that I have seen are pretty representative. You can attack administrators and teachers for not having your detailed knowledge of the law and the law-making process. Had you shared our practical experience, however, you would have understood why we predicted that people would react the way they did.
1. 06

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