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Flip-Flopping Finn, Part 2


Tearing down NCLB (and most efforts to improve it) has emerged as the central strategy of the Fordham Foundation's Checker Finn during the past few weeks and months. According to Finn (and his deputy Mike Petrilli), little good came from the original NCLB -- and little can be done to improve it.

No doubt, Finn and Petrilli (with whom I have worked) find lots of company in criticizing NCLB from both the left and right, though most seem to want to mend, not end the act. But it's hard not to notice that these two were critical friends of the law for almost the entire duration of its existence. It's as if the Ed Trust turned against the law, or the NEA came out for it.

Their turnabout on NCLB could represent the inevitable scramble to get off a sinking ship, some sort of epiphany, or an opportunistic change of course prompted by, among other things, the decline of Republican fortunes. But the change is something that needs to be addressed, I think. [Petrilli thinks he's already covered this with his NRO piece, but for some reason I'm not satisfied.]


The real question here is - "does it matter any to the outcome of NCLB reauthorization or any other practical area of regulation, action or spending in public education?" I think the answer is a simple "no." Much larger forces are at work.

So maybe it just amounts to the reinvention/renovation Washington think tanks need every few years if they are to remain at the center of k-12's village-like media and wonk camp followers' attention. An effort to keep the audience interested. Controversy is a close substitute for relevance. Motion is easily confused with direction.

The education neocons were relevant from say the tail end of the Reagan era to the present demise of George W Bush. Their policy papers - like charters and even choice - were grounded in working relationships with real reformers fighting the tough battles in the field.

But will that small band of wonkish outfits - from EdSector on the near left and the Center for Education on the somehat farther right that bracket Fordham - and their principals, matter as much going forward?

Fordham has a foot in the real world in Ohio. But as a whole, do the k-12 neocons still have the extensive and deep contact with the grassroots doing education reform that gave them their legitimacy?

Or have the become an anti-blob whose future relying on relationships with a handful of program officers in the new philanthropy who - ironically have decided to trade in the locals for a few CMOs with failing busines models?

Fordham and company are becoming window dressing, eye-candy. They may not realize that they are approaching the same point of disconnectionwith the people making change that led the Council on Basic Education, New American Schools,the National Alliance of Business and maybe the Education Commission of the States to their demise.

You have adroitly addressed the political landscape Mark.

The NCLB act is a blight. Memorization, retention of data, teaching to the test is not education! I will not even delve into the suggestion that teachers be paid for better test results!
The federalization of education is a disaster, you only have to look at our educational system and it’s place within the context of International scores.

Vouchers, private education and the like are on the front burner because inner city schools are no longer able to offer the elements needed for a sound education. Yes, there are selected schools but they are for those who already have a leg up!

I would rather see some spirited conversation about local control and integration of the arts within the educational process.


I am a teacher in Arkansas. I would like to say that NCLB as it stands is a new way of social promotion. Those kids are spending less and less time learning the skills they need to be productive citizens. They are put in the classroom with materials that are over their head so they will "not be left behind".
When in reality that's just what we're doing. If those kids in my fourth grade math class are being asked to solve complex multiplication and division problems my kids on a first grade level can't do since they only know how to add with single digits.
We are not given an aid to help with these students and give them the education they need. I also have a problem with the testing of these kids that aren't being "left behind". How can you test them on a grade level that they won't be proficiant at for three years. My first grade level students aren't ready for a fourth grade test no matter how you look at it.
I feel like we should be bringing these kids up and preparing them for a bright future. Maybe not a lawyer, doctor, or even a congressman, but something that can make them money, provide for their families, and allow them to be proud of themself for finishing school.
So many of these kids drop out before the end and I think that's what we're going to see more of if we don't revamp NCLB or come up with something new altogher.

NCLB is a natural byproduct of the standards movement. The NEA and AFT are directly responsible for their push two decades ago to adopt universal standards. If you're going to require all kids to learn the same material, it is only logical for others to demand a measurement of accountability.

Children are individuals. Each person deserves a personalized curriculum informed by individual interests and strengths. One student may want to study architecture, another might prefer biology. Neither is "better" than the other. The best way to go about this is to completely decentralize education and utilize vouchers, in which schools are free to set their own curriculum, and parents are free to choose a school they believe is a best fit for their own child. I know the unions will never allow this because it would mean the end of their existence.

Second best would be an educational system similar to Montessori in the primary grades, and apprenticeships / individualized learning projects after that. Check out bigpicture.org for examples of public schools saying to hell with content standards and instead adopting a more rigorous, personalized course of study.

It can be done, but the reform won't come from within. Teachers are powerless to change the system because they collect paychecks. Only parents can create serious change.

If the bureaucrats won't listen, you can always join the 2 million homeschoolers charting their own course.

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