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The Vision Vacuum

"You're too young to be this cynical, " he said, staring across his desk at me with a perplexed half smile.

I was 10, and in the middle of our classroom's simulated presidential campaign in which we followed the election and voted for candidates, my 5th grade teacher had launched into a pep talk about the potential for real change.

The last eight years have done little to temper my built-in skepticism. These are dark times, Diane Ravitch reminds us this morning. If I saw the glass as half-empty when Bush assumed the presidency, I now see it as half full - with poison.

That spin has taken over education policymaking hasn't helped. Accountability, as we used to talk about it back in the 1990s, was a way to evaluate reforms and provide incentives to implement them. It was never intended to be the reform. Now everyone's being tested and rated and graded and held accountable, but no one is supporting schools to improve the day-to-day work of teaching and learning. Policymakers say they want to leave "no child behind," but are willing to deny them health care in their next breath. We've adopted every technocratic solution that newly minted MBAs can come up with, but we have no educational vision.

So it was with cautious optimism that I followed Randi Weingarten's acceptance of the AFT presidency on Monday. As Dan Brown articulates in this post, she's a fighter, and one at the forefront of critiquing our current reform movement's easy slogans, "Too often, testing has replaced instruction; data has replaced professional judgment; compliance has replaced excellence; and so-called leadership has replaced teacher professionalism."

In her acceptance speech, which was bold and unapologetic, she embraced the proposed reforms of the Bolder and Broader coalition, and let us imagine what an alternate educational vision for public schools could look like. Watch the whole speech and let me know what you think - or just take a look at the clip below.


I think the vision rapidly narrows to after-school tutoring and ELL classes for adults - used well in a few places, ignored in most.

"Accountability, as we used to talk about it back in the 1990s, was a way to evaluate reforms and provide incentives to implement them. It was never intended to be the reform."

Well put. This is one reason that I get so ticked off with the chorus I hear of NCLB doesn't work. Well, it doesn't work if we don't work at it. There has always been a certain amount of unintended genius is leaving the actually reform choices to the states or local communities (depending on the structure of the state). This is where I get so frustrated hearing all about how NCLB forces teachers to teach to the test, and the very real tyrannies of pacing charts and rewriting all assessment to look like the standardized tests. This is the area where schools have the greatest amount of freedom, and this has been their chosen response. Of all possible tools for reform, for improvement, these are the kinds of things that have been chosen.

It reminds me of the t-shirts that say "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." If teachers aren't happy, well they can go on about making some pretty silly choices. What is disturbing about
AFT's current stance is that it looks like what will make teachers happy is to do away with accountability.

When there were still hearings going on about the reauthorization, there was some attention paid to the notion of multiple measures of accountability. It sounded good, but to the extent that the multiple measures have some reliability or validity in terms of looking at the outcomes of education, I cannot imagine that teachers, in the current climate, will be any more likely to embrace them. Performance-based and collection of evidence models are very labor intensive, and require a different level of expertise than appears to be prevalent in the field across the board. Where they have been used in the alternate assessment arena the early results displayed far more about teacher understanding than student growth--and the teachers weren't happy with what was required. Nebraska's teacher-made assessments didn't make teachers happy--due to the understanding and ability that needed to be fostered in order to arrive at reliability and validity.

Even the growth models rely on annual standardized assessments for their data base. Perhaps Obama is on the right track in thinking about higher pay for greater accountability. Maybe we can make teachers happy enough to embrace some accountability-basded reform.

"In her acceptance speech, which was bold and unapologetic, she embraced the proposed reforms of the Bolder and Broader coalition"

I'm even more cynical about Weingarten's speech whenyou consider what has happened in NYC to teachers and the union under her decade of leadership. Where did we hear "bolder and broader" come from her in all these years? What we did see was quasi support for testing and all the evils that Klein/Sharpton espouse. Or at the very least, no resistance. How does a leader who endorsed a merit pay scheme that pays teachers for test scores now come out against testing?

Hear what NYC teachers have to say and put the speech in context.

"Accountability, as we used to talk about it back in the 1990s, was a way to evaluate reforms and provide incentives to implement them. It was never intended to be the reform."

Two excellent sentences.

Eduwonkette, I usually agree with your posts, but calling accountability reform a "vision vacuum" feels like a low blow. For all its flaws, NCLB managed to avoid one of the classic pitfalls of reform: legislating practice. NCLB intentionally avoids mandating how classrooms and schools should be run. Instead, it sets up a platform -- with plenty of imperfections, to be sure -- for "evaluating reforms and providing incentives to implement them." In essence, Congress has said to educators, "You understand the practice of education far better than we do, so we're going to let you carry out this reform in the best way you know how. We're asking you to teach kids better and close achievement gaps. We don't care how you do it -- just demonstrate that you can."

So talk to me about the shoddy tests that many (most) states are using, or the real need for more funding, or the generally sorry state of coaching and PD for new teachers. But NCLB is open-ended by design -- an insightful improvement over most past reforms. Spinning that as a lack of vision is a cheap shot.


I agree with John,

"Accountability, as we used to talk about it back in the 1990s, was a way to evaluate reforms and provide incentives to implement them. It was never intended to be the reform."

Two excellent sentences.

But your logic supports our side. Accountability should be a tool to help create a better and more effective learning culture, not a "Sista Soldja" tactic. If you want kids to be treated with respect, you should come back to our side. We're not perfect, but our first priority must be to protect our students from the malpractice that was encouraged by NCLB-type accountability.

Then, together, we can move on to a higher vision.

Join us now while NCLB is on the ropes. The sooner we knock it out, the sooner we can move on to the education required for the 21st century.

After all, the 20th century is already over, already over, already over. The 20th century is already over, all over this world.

The voices of classroom teachers, many of whom are superb teachers clearly unafraid of having the work they do be judged in a fair way, yet who oppose the phony one-way accountablity of NCLB, should be heard.

NCLB is a political tool, not an educational one. Underlying it is an attack on teachers and their unions as obstructionist - what else are we to draw when teachers and schools are held accountable but governing bodies that short-change schools are not?

Teacher unions should stand up and not be afraid to say this. Unfortunately, the record of the UFT, the largest union local in the US, has been to go along with the accountability movement for the last 30 years. Its leading light, Al Shanker, was one of the founders of the movement and his alliance with the Clintons from the 80's through their Goals 2000 Plan, a predecessor of NCLB, is an indication not to expect much more from the AFT/UFT at this time.

For all its flaws, NCLB managed to avoid one of the classic pitfalls of reform: legislating practice. NCLB intentionally avoids mandating how classrooms and schools should be run.

I have to disagree with this take on NCLB. The problematic part of NCLB isn't just that it labels schools in a fairly binary way -- you either made AYP or you didn't -- but that its starts prescribing solutions (school choice, SES, reorganizing the staff...) with the underlying theme being that the reason a school is doesn't make AYP must be that the staff is incompetent or not trying hard enough.

"But your logic supports our side. Accountability should be a tool to help create a better and more effective learning culture, not a "Sista Soldja" tactic. If you want kids to be treated with respect, you should come back to our side. We're not perfect, but our first priority must be to protect our students from the malpractice that was encouraged by NCLB-type accountability."

JT--I am not all that clear that there are two sides--or that I am on one of them. But having experienced the kinder gentler, no accountability version of Title I, as well as the current version, I still would vote for the current version. Given that the choice of reforms (when reforms were mandated) rested on bottom-up decision-making, and resulted in some of the brainless schemes that we have seen, why would it make sense to stop mandating reform (or follow Weingarten's path of allowing schools responsibility for reforming public health, mental health and public housing instead).

I feel as though our children are being held hostage. But it isn't the funders in Washington who are holding them hostage. It is the front-line educators who have decided that if they have to report test scores to the world they will do all that they can to make it a miserable process for everyone. After all, if they were to choose instead to actually improve the education process, they would be expected to continue. And reporting would continue.

It's time to get over it, if there is truly a belief in educating children. Yes, you have to change how you do things. And some folks might not make it. Better they should end their days selling insurance than eking through with a bad attitude and poor skills just because we are not comfortable with accountability.

Sad to say, things have gotten better for my son since NCLB. Previously nobody had to care whether he learned anything, and frequently nobody did. Not that he wasn't assigned to people who worked hard doing something all day, and most seemed to be dedicated to the things that they did. But if they weren't the right things--well, no one was even likely to know.

It still takes way too much work to get a decent IEP written, and whether it is ever followed is anybody's guess (no accountability). But, at the end of the day, someone is holding the school's feet to the fire regarding whether teaching results in learning. All the quick fixes and work arounds and system gaming (the educational malpractice), these too shall pass. Because in the end, they don't result in learning--or long term gains in test scores (one indicator of learning).

Let me challenge you--if you could wave the magic wand--what means of accountability would you endorse, and why do you believe that they would be more effective?

John T,

"But your logic supports our side"

Out of curiosity (and perhaps this relates to Margo's post), what are the two sides? I'm not trying to be funny here - I'm curious to know what you see as the breakdown, and who is on it.

The magic wand accountability question is easy. Its the accountability that Deborah Meiers describes, a word which is no different than commitment. If you love your students you hold yourself accountable. In regard to the non-magic wand accountability, I'd concentrate on getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom. We should practicve what we preach and focus on observable behavior. (I'm not big on the do what I say not what I do approach, which means focus on observable behavior of students, teachers, and other educators and back off from mind control- judging people based on their opinions). I'd use test scores as corroborating evidence.

Personally, I have two huge levels of accountability that dwarf the others, firstly to students and secondly to the traditions, values, and principles of public education. After that huge drop off, there is accountability to parents and the political mandates. Early in NCLB I would tithe a certain amount of my consciousness and the students time to the testing, but now I don't allow that mindset into my consciousness. I had a 85% pass rate, which was triple our dept's rate, but life is too short and teaching is too intimate to allow that sort of bs to pollute us. With all do respect, I see progressive supporters of NCLB as buying into an "ends justify the means" approach. When I'm around young people, I can't do that. When I was a legislative lobbyist, I conformed to values and compromises that I can't bring into a classroom.

There aren't many issues where I'm seeking a "which side are you on?" question, and the only part of NCLB that I can't stomach is the accountability provisions. But right now, I want to drive a stake in the heart of NCLB-type accountability while it is down. I want to defeat it so soundly that people will be slow to try to resurrect it.

Its had to believe that any mother's son hasn't had one teacher who loves him.

I can't imagine a teacher who would let their hatred of NCLB interfere with their duties to their students. Has anyone else seen a teacher who cut back on effort because of their political beliefs regarding NCLB?

Sure there are bad teachers and uncaring teachers. But if a teacher doesn't care enough to do their best as a teacher, why would they care one way or another about NCLB? You ought to be careful about what teachers you want to drive out of the profession.

I personally don't know a teacher who supports NCLB, and I don't think I know an administrator that supports the way it was implemented.

Everyone sees things from their own perspective. I have no doubt that some people see NCLB as producing more good than bad. I see much more bad than good.

But here's the question? If you had two or more children, and one or more benefitted from the law, while one or more were damaged by it, what would you do? It wouldn't be easy reaching a rational balancing act, but here's what I would ask. What are the relative benefits vs the relative harm? If it helped raise my daughter's performance a little, but it resulted in the humilation of my son, then I would fight the damage. If I had a child who was already on track for college who would learn some more, while it pushed my ther child - a struggling student out of school - then again I'd fight.

I thought I made it clear that I don't want a fight, especially with people who are goodhearted and sincere. But I'm not going to "get over it."
NCLB-type accountability will always come back. Some will support it because they believe its a good idea. Most will bring it back because they want to fight. Its about control, not education. Its mostly the politics of resentment.

But, we can't get there from here if we keep going back to the politics of resentment and beggar thy neighbor. If you say you'll fight nonstop because you think its helping students, so I have to fight nonstop because I believe its hurting students, then how can we meet the challenges of providing a 21st century education for all?

"...my 5th grade teacher had launched into a pep talk about the potential for real change."

I'd have preferred that your 5th grade teacher spent that time discussing some of the unique, unparalleled facets of our country that we desperately need to preserve.

NCLB does indeed lack vision. It is in fact the antithesis of vision and is no real reform at all. It is regressive, oppressive, punitive, archaic, demoralizing, and at its core based on false assumptions.

Marion Brady has a vision for education. Please keep an open mind and consider what he has to say in his letter to Obama:

"NCLB does indeed lack vision. It is in fact the antithesis of vision and is no real reform at all. It is regressive, oppressive, punitive, archaic, demoralizing, and at its core based on false assumptions."

I must respectfully disagree. As Norm points out, NCLB is a political tool, not an educational one. Within that context, the vision does indeed exist, and it's pretty sinister.

You're right about everything else, though.

The first assumption is so false that even the people who spout it know it's a crock. That's the one where all teachers are lazy, anti-intellectual, ruinous dunderheads, and that education can only be saved by selfless twenty-something Broadketeers who need only teach for two years before blasting onto the principal track and inflicting their newfound expertise on the rest of us losers. Don't want to work 14 hour days? Don't want to put in weekend hours? Want to join the UNION of all things? Damned prehistoric deadwood!

The second, infuriating assumption is that working the public schools is somehow akin to doing charity work with the uncivilized Hottentots of darkest colonial Africa. Within that framework, though, let's make sure to hold the poor little barefoot heathens to High Expectations! What's ironic about this one is that the students themselves smell the condescension a mile away, and in many cases the rotating crop of fresh-faced, eager, naive white saviors makes them more, not less, repulsed by the whole school experience.

No matter, though, because in the grand scheme of things, their interests don't matter. The third, most vile assumption of all, the one that even all the Ivy League Teaching Fellows aren't made privy to, is that education is a vast, untapped investment opportunity. The students may be our customers, of course, but as in many unscrupulous industries, to hell with them. Even better, they're minors! They can't vote, they have little money to spend, and they and their parents are obviously too stupid to complain -- because after all, who sends their kids to PUBLIC SCHOOL? Most of them are just going to wind up in Iraq anyway, or in jail, so why not make a tidy profit on them beforehand?

All this accountability mumbo jumbo is a huge smokescreen. School reform has become a huge, barely regulated gravy train, even to the point where sound business practices are thrown out the window. Where's the sense in taking one large school and hacking it up into ten small schools? That means ten principal salaries instead of one, ten sets of office staff, ten buildings to be leased, and on and on and on, but who cares? The beauty of the thing is that the school district has to foot the bill for all those details. The charter school moguls can just sit back, count their money, and have a nasty laugh at the expense of the very people they're so loudly pretending to serve.

Best scam since Enron.

Thought 1: I think Margo/Mom is right that in some cases NCLB has helped shine a light on places where kids have been getting left behind, and the challenge of reform is to make sure we don't lose those steps forward in undoing the harm that the law has done. I don't think it's really better to say "NCLB worked for this kid so it's great" than it is to say "that kid was doing fine without NCLB, so let's just get rid of it;" dismissing either the good its done or the harm (which in my view is greater) doesn't help move towards doing what needs to be done.

Thought 2: I liked Randi Weingarten's speech even though I recognize that some of that spirit gets lost in the shoving match that collective bargaining often turns into. But I think it glosses over a key issue which is that, realistically, advocates for a richer curriculum and a move away from fill-in-the bubble tests are going to have to come to some kind of an agreement about observable ways to assess whether or not schools are teaching the richer curriculum successfully. Otherwise it will constantly be painted as pandering to the mediocre status quo, and pushes for accountability will default back to the 3R's and multiple-choice tests.

I still don't get this partial accountability thing. Why is no one held accountable for class sizes in NYC being 25% higher than in the rest of the state? Is it the money thing? That the very politicians who foisted NCLB on us say they can't afford to provide every urban child with the same teacher student ratio their own children have in their private schools where they pay $30,000 a year?

Are we saying that the key is to remove the ineffective teachers not to make class sizes so reasonable that teachers can be more effective?

Hmmmm, money. Is it there for Fannie May? Bear Sterns? Iraq? I don't get it. So-called ed reformers shrug their shoulders as these enormous sums get spent. Like there is no connection.

Don't you get it? If you break urban unions - and one way is to break their pay scales by offering a few teachers more money for whatever it takes to get high scores while taking down many teachers who reach certain pay scales or promote the 2 year wonders so you never have to pay a pension and can keep salaries low forever - you can do ed reform on the cheap and on the backs of teachers.

Think of the 14 hour days these people will put in before they burn out instead of hiring enough teachers to do the work in 7 hours.

Do suburban schools run this way? Are teachers held accountable for test scores? IS merit pay thrown at them? Don't they have tenure? Do suburban school systems actually elect people who control the budget?

Not for the urban heathen who require dictators like Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein.

Talk about civil rights. And the true shame - or sham - of the nation.

High-stakes testing is an excellent tool to control the masses and keep them in their places. The last thing the ruling elite who own this country want is for public schools to succeed.

Norm, the treatment of urban public school teachers is indeed reprehensible.

Someone should do a comparison of people who run wealthy districts in terms of education background vs. the people being hired in urban areas.

Would any suburban school district hire a Joel Klein or a Michelle Rhee or a Paul Vallas to run their schools? Suggest this at your local school board meeting and you would be laughed out of town.

John (Thompson):

My first thought to your response was that this is what makes it so difficult to write an IEP. If you ask a teacher a question about how to solve a problem, it's very difficult to pin down the specific steps of how to get there, what resources it will take, and whether or not what was previously tried worked, how well, how you know and what needs to be improved to stand a better chance at success. BTW--I agree with you on commitment, and at the micro level I have worked in organizations that drove accountability on commitment to a vision and a philosophy. I don't know how to achieve that at the macro level of public education and in the context of organized labor. Perhaps the closest model would be Cuba and the post-revolutionary fervor that drove the 100% literacy movement. I don't see us going there.

Your classroom--with an 85% pass rate, is testimony that focus on learning and sound teaching practice is not only possible under NCLB, but also results in learning that is measureable on the current measures. So the question remains--why is this not the norm? Why is it that removing ineffective teachers from the classroom was not(or was) a focus before NCLB--and what about NCLB prevents (or does it) that focus now?

You cannot argue, on the one hand that NCLB encourages educational malpractice, and on the other deny that it exists: "I can't imagine a teacher who would let their hatred of NCLB interfere with their duties to their students. Has anyone else seen a teacher who cut back on effort because of their political beliefs regarding NCLB?" The issue is not cutting back on effort. It is putting effort into the wrong things. This is the paradigm shift that is required in moving from an input based (I'm here X hours per day, I have Y students, we cover Z chapters) to an outcome based system of accountability--whether it goes by the name of NCLB or something else. What matters is not how hard you work and how many hours you put in--it is whether the students are learning--and how you know.

I grew up an a heavily tracked suburban school district. It was pretty wonderful to have a system structured to tell me how smart I was on a regular basis (it wasn't perfect--there was still some of the that "pretty good for a girl" kind of thing). I have two brothers who went through the same system. One was tracked similarly to me--and regarded as an "underperformer." The other was the problem child. Held back, suggested for special education (my parents balked--no child of theirs, etc). In fact, the district was heavily into test score driven accountability. Every year we knew whether we or the neighboring suburb had more National Merit Scholars. I learned to "bubble in" in third grade (probably the first time that such a thing existed--we had to use special pencils). We had standardized tests every year--individual results shared with our parents, district results, most likely shared when they were good.

Now--I would argue that this system buoyed me at the expense of my brother and others like him. I have also since then experienced far more egalitarian groupings and discovered how much more there is to learn when the good of the group is the focus, rather than the good of those at the top. This is a difficult thing for Americans to accept--we are a very competitive society (this is where our commitment lies).

In fact I have two children--and I have observed how much more readily the school has accepted one than the other. One child flew through the tests (our state had tests before NCLB) and was welcome at any school and in any class. The other--even when his scores didn't count--has always been urged to try another school that might be "better for him." I even had one principal confide that she "didn't get any points for saving a child like him." I don't find it to be a tough choice at all. Both should be educated--and it is not an either or situation. Despite the rhetoric about the children "harmed" by NCLB, I don't see any substantiation of that. The closest anyone has come is the recent data showing that the kids on the bottom are advancing faster than the kids on the top. Seems like that was the point. But I don't see the harm.


I could not get an 85% pass rate anymore. More importantly, I wouldn't try. I've got enough reputation for classroom instruction excellence (and I was the district's runner-up teacher of the year) that I can drive a harder bargain. So my principal understands that if I am assigned to US History where there is an EOI, and if the central office comes down with a predictably stupid mandate, she and I will both end up with lawyers fighting it out on the front page of the newspaper. So, we horse trade. I keep Black History and Multiculturalism, give up my Government Class (even though I am best with seniors), and I take more than my share of troubled freshmen and sophomore classes.

Our AFT local is making another push to help remove ineffective teachers. I would never support such a system if based on test scores, but in my experience the issue is control. People in central offices are just like everyone else, some play well with others, and some want control. In my experience, NCLB has tilted power more in the direction of those controlling personalities.

The stronger data, NAEP middle school scores and scores in Chicago where they've analyzed in detail, show that the lower performing students have not improved and may have declined since NCLB. Even with state elementary scores, the rate of improvement has largely declined since NCLB.

Our district fits the national pattern in that our elementary population has remained stable as scores on state tests soar. Similarly, magnet school scores have soared, while high poverty neighborhood scores have dropped. Worse, we have lost 1/6th of our Black and White students since NCLB, mostly in the neighborhood schools. I saw the most extreme damage first hand three years ago, and the 300 8th graders who blew the top off of test scores ended up graduating a 103 seniors. Last year, a hot shot turnaround expert from the Broad School tried the same "reforms" in Ralph Ellison's alma mater. They started with 205 freshmen and 87 seniors, and graduated 55 seniors. Force teachers to teach at a level that is four or five years above the skill level of their students, and to do so at a predetermined rate, and everyone's rear end is covered under NCLB. But the kids know what is happening. And we get another round of teacher-bashing.

The counselors know that I love sitting in on IEP meetings, so I participate in a lot of them. I've had plenty of neat experiences in those meetings, but I don't recall any meaningful ones in regard to the specific targets. They are mostly just pulled out of someone's rear end. I thought everyone saw it that way; its just the way the game is played by great teachers and by incompetents alike.

Rather than look to Cuba, why not look to America? I want schools that reflect or divesity, including the diversity of personalities. We can afford to exclude iconoclasts from the
classroom. Fire every incompetent, and what would you have in hardcore inner city classrooms? Substitutes. We don't get enough, but every year we get bright dedicated young teachers. Most are driven away by discipline problems, which predates NCLB. But NCLB tilted power towards the little Napoleans' who want to hook a plow onto a racehorse. How can you recruit talent to schools by taking away their professional autonomy?

You haven't seen the harm of NCLB, while I have. So I'm not going to stop fighting its testing. Accountability hawks seem to believe that they just need to outlast the Baby Boomers, as they socialize newcomers. Maybe. But we'll be putting up the good fight for another decade.

Margo/Mom asks about the harm of NCLB. Our district no longer teaches a full year of science (or in some cases, any science) to middle school students who score below proficient on state tests.

With CA's new algebra for all 8th graders requirement -- driven in a large part by NCLB inflexibility (encouraging algebra for 8th graders morphed in to testing all 8th graders in it) -- we will end up sacrificing science for intensive pre-algebra. That, to me, is educationally wrong on a lot of levels, and harms the students it is inflicted upon.


I think it is very important to understand the difference between what NCLB requires and what states and districts elect to do. As I understand the situation in California, the standards specified Algebra in 8th grade. It wasn't tested, and therefore wasn't taught. Where NCLB comes in is not to dictate the standards (that is the state's choice), but to require that there be testing to determine if this is the learning (teaching) that is occuring, and that the opportunity is equitable. California had more than one option. They could have changed the standards, moving Algebra, as a requirement to a higher grade level. I am not a mathematician and I have no opinion on the appropriate grade in which to deliver content. I would hold that an intermediary goal to teaching/testing Algebra at grade 8 would be to see that all students are ready for learning Algebra at grade 8. These are nuances that we seem to be unable to grasp--with or without testing and/or accountability.

I don't know how your district will handle the science testing requirement being phased in as a part of NCLB if they don't teach it to kids in order to remediate math. But these are the kinds of local decisions that, to me, reek of intentional foot shooting that derives from unhappiness at having to display publicly what the test scores reveal. Why else would you do this?

In my state/district, I have watched the phasing in of science testing (as well as social studies). The scores are embarrasing. But the reality appears to be that while these topics were not being tested, nobody care whether they were being taught.

But these are the kinds of local decisions that, to me, reek of intentional foot shooting that derives from unhappiness at having to display publicly what the test scores reveal. Why else would you do this?

Why do we do it? Because when funding (Title I and potentially other state funding) is dependent on "compliance" there is a tendency to do what's safe from a compliance monitoring point of view. It's a bit like swimming pools that take out diving boards -- the swimming experience will be diminished, but the risk of the pool being shut down by a lawsuit is reduced.

I can assure you that at least in our district it's not about anti-NCLB foot-shooting -- if anything it's about being overly trusting that doing what's safe from a compliance point of view is the right thing to do educationally.

I don't doubt that the intent of NCLB was good -- but in its implementation it has become a web of incentives and sanctions, many of them perverse. I think its a mistake to overlook those, or to dismiss the perverseness of some of the incentives just because the intent was good.


Not to beat a dead horse (observing that everyone else has moved on), but NCLB doesn't really operate on a compliance basis--and I think that this is the root of the discomfort. Think about how school lunch programs operate, for an example of a compliance-based program. Children must enroll and be approved based on their income. Meals must include the basic food goups, a certain number of calories, no greater than a certain percentage from fat, milk must be offered, etc. There are specifications about the amount of time and supervision, etc. Must be available in a non-discriminatory manner. If the program were to operate more like NCLB--based on outcomes, it might set a goal for all students to be adequately nourished. The how you do it would be left to the schools. It might change their focus to things that they hadn't thought about before--like how to encourage kids to actually eat the healthy foods that are available instead of the snack foods from the machines. There might be a different stake in working with the programs that take on feeding children in the summer (and are way under-used and under-available).

Title I in the past has operated in a much more compliance-oriented way. It could provide extra minutes of reading for low-income students, for instance. It might have provided professional development or smaller classroom size or (if my recollection from back in the 70's serves) textbooks or equipment. The point was always to improve the educational situation of low-income students, but the only accountability was compliance with inputs. The current focus is on outcomes. If the dollars are being used in ways that comport with the desired outcomes, there is maximum freedom to plan and use the dollars. If not, then the sanctions begin to help provide a focus.

As a parent, I care a whole lot more about whether my child is learning than whether the requirements of a funding stream are being adhered to.

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Recent Comments

  • Margo/Mom: Rachel: Not to beat a dead horse (observing that everyone read more
  • Rachel: But these are the kinds of local decisions that, to read more
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  • Rachel: Margo/Mom asks about the harm of NCLB. Our district no read more
  • john thompson: Margo/mom, I could not get an 85% pass rate anymore. read more




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American Federation of Teachers
Andrew Ho
Art Siebens
Baltimore City Public Schools
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black-white achievement gap
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bubble kids
Building on the Basics
Cambridge Education
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Institute for Education Sciences
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leaving teaching
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Marcus Winters
math achievement for girls
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National Center for Education Statistics Condition of Education
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The Persistence of Teacher-Induced Learning Gains
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University of Iowa
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Urban Institute Teach for America
value-added assessment
Wendy Kopp
women and graduate school science and engineering
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Woodrow Wilson High School