Big Props for a "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education"The potential effectiveness of NCLB has been seriously undermined, however, by its acceptance of the popular assumptions that bad schools are the major reason for low achievement, and that an academic program revolving around standards, testing, teacher training, and accountability can, in and of itself, offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on achievement.
-The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Task Force Report
This morning, more than 60 heavy hitters kicked off a campaign calling for a "broader, bolder approach to education policy." (You may have already seen the print ads in the Washington Post and NY Times.) Co-chaired by Sunny Ladd, a Duke University economist, Pedro Noguera, a sociologist at NYU, and Tom Payzant, the former Boston schools superintendent and U.S. assistant secretary of education, the task force calls for a more expansive view of education policy that views schools as one component of a comprehensive youth development strategy. Here are their four recommendations:
1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need smaller classes in early grades for disadvantaged children; to attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.
2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education. These programs must not only help low-income children students academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.
3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and poor parents’ inability to miss work for children’s routine health services.
4. Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.
eduwonk suggests that the acknowledgment that schools can't do it alone is just another tired opinion, "The explicit rejection that perhaps schools are even a substantial part of the educational problem is unsettling." Recall that many of these signers have spent years studying school effects - the effect of going to one school versus another, all else equal - on test scores. This is a conclusion derived from years of confronting that distribution of school effects over and over again.
Particularly notable in this regard is the leadership of Sunny Ladd, who spent the last 10 years investigating the effects of accountability on North Carolina schools. She's an economist - hardly someone against the use of incentives - but she's seen the meager effects of accountability alone on the reduction of achievement gaps. And many early supporters of NCLB-style arrangements are represented here as well - Susan Neuman, Bob Schwartz (the President of Achieve from 1997-02), and Milt Goldberg (of the A Nation at Risk commission).
No one is saying that schools aren't important. No one is saying that we should abandon efforts to improve schools. And no one is saying that we should "let schools off the hook." What they are saying is that the effects of schools are not large enough to wipe out the gaps that are created by students' out-of-school environments.
You can - and I hope you will - become a co-signer on the statement here.
So now people are starting to admit that we teachers are not to blame. Indeed, we are the altruistic saviors everyone likes to say we are (instead of paying us). Obama mentions in every speech about education the fact that kids need to show up at school ready to learn. If they don't, they start out behind, and stay behind. No amount of classroom instruction will help them if their parents won't. We teachers have been saying this for a long time.
There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ambitious education law often described as the Bush Administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the view of many educators, the law's 2014 goal — which calls for all public school students in grades 4 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in reading and math — is something no educational system anywhere on earth has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3% with serious handicaps or other issues) is supposed to be achieving on grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that children start off in different places academically and grow at different rates.
Add to the mix the fact that much of the promised funding failed to materialize and many early critics insisted that No Child Left Behind was nothing more than a cynical plan to destroy American faith in public education and open the way to vouchers and school choice.
Now a former official in Bush's Education department is giving at least some support to that notion. Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."
Tensions between NCLB believers and the blow-up-the-schools group were one reason the Bush Department of Education felt like "a pressure cooker," says Neuman, who left the Administration in early 2003. Another reason was political pressure to take the hardest possible line on school accountability in order to avoid looking lax — like the Clinton Administration. Thus, when Neuman and others argued that many schools would fail to reach the NCLB goals and needed more flexibility while making improvements, they were ignored. "We had this no-waiver policy," says Neuman. "The feeling was that the prior administration had given waivers willy-nilly."
It was only in Bush's second term that the hard line began to succumb to reality. Margaret Spellings, who replaced Paige as Secretary of Education in 2005, gradually opened the door to a more flexible and realistic approach to school accountability. Instead of demanding lockstep, grade-level achievement, schools in some states could meet the NCLB goals by demonstrating adequate student growth. (In this "growth model" approach, a student who was three years behind in reading and ended the year only one year behind would not be viewed as a failure.) "Going to the growth models is the right way to go," says Neuman. "I wish it had come earlier. It didn't because we were trying to be tough."
Neuman also regrets the Administration's use of humiliation and shame as a lever for school reform. Failure to meet NCLB's inflexible goals meant schools would be publicly labeled as failures. Neuman now sees this as a mistake: "Vilifying teachers and saying we are going to shame them was not the right approach."
The combination of inflexibility and public humiliation for those not meeting federal goals ignited so much frustration among educators that NCLB now appears to be an irreparably damaged brand. "The problems lingered long enough and there's so much anger that it may not be fixable," says Neuman. While the American Federation of Teachers was once on board with the NCLB goals, she notes, the union has turned against it. "Teachers hate NCLB because they feel like they've been picked on."
Is there a way out of the mess? Neuman still supports school accountability and the much-maligned annual tests mandated by the law. But she now believes that the nation has to look beyond the schoolroom, if it wishes to leave no child behind.
Along with 59 other top educators, policymakers and health officials--including three former surgeon generals, she's put her name to a nonpartisan document to be released on Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. Titled "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education," it lays out an expansive vision for leveling the playing field for low-income kids, one that looks toward new policies on child health and support for parents and communities. The document states that much of the achievement gap between rich and poor "is rooted in what occurs outside of formal schooling," and therefore calls on policymakers to "rethink their assumptions" about what it will take to close that gap. Neuman says that money she's seen wasted on current programs, including much of the massive Title 1 spending should be reallocated according to this broader approach. "Pinning all our hopes on schools will never change the odds for kids."
Enough with the staff development. Enough with the endless meetings to no avail. Enough with discussing everything on the administrations terms. Teachers need to stand up and fight for what we know is right. Kids need better parenting. When they get shitty parenting, that's not the teacher's fault. Jeebus!
Our school is a most depressing place, and our leader is not suffering from deer-in-the-headlights. Our leader, who has yet to lead, was hired to do the deeds--get rid of teachers who don't fall in line, de-fund the arts program, and simply prove that with change must (apparently) come chaos.
I am going to do everything I can to find another job--not another teaching job, just another job. The only reward teachers get are the thanks from kids and parents. We get no money, autonomy, trust, time, support, materials, assistance, interventions for needy students, GATE for our brightest students, or power to teach. We get nothing but grief. What a fucking drag teaching is these days.
And when we teachers talk about our chosen field, we are pretty much on the same page about so many things; all the creativity has been replaced by "scientifically based" or "research based" curricular materials. Let me say that there hasn't been much new in education for a while. Heck, when I was young we went to whole language, only to find that it was stupid (which we already knew). Every pile of new curricular materials makes me visualize infrastructure left in disrepair. When I am told of a new curriculum that promises to close the achievement gap, I just wait a few months, or a couple years, and the study is debunked.
Teaching is not a science. It is an art, and I suggest it is an art that cannot be learned easily. Some of us are naturals, others are not. Our principal is not a natural. She is an insufferable, halitosis laden, big word using (loquacious? no, that's not it...pompous!), water carrying tool of the political zeitgeist which is intent on demonizing teachers and schools, sciencifying pedagogy (more of a philosphy than a science, no?), and promising things she has no business promising. What a tool!
Summer is coming, I can't afford to do anything, so I guess I'll look for a job. I hope to be able to give notice at my school the day classes begin, out of spite.
And to those of you who took my advice and sent a letter to your child's teacher telling them how great they are, thank you. It is the only tangible bonus we ever get, and those letters can be useful when principals don't like you!