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Changes To NCLB

February 1, 2010

Of course it would be political suicide to scrap a law titled “No Child Left Behind.” Imagine the op-ed page and blogger quips that would ensue. But I’m happy to learn that the Obama administration is revamping the program to be more realistic. Here is some encouraging news from the article:

1. The White House wants to change federal financing formulas so that a portion of the money is awarded based on academic progress, rather than by formulas that apportion money to districts according to their numbers of students, especially poor students. The well-worn formulas for distributing tens of billions of dollars in federal aid have, for decades, been a mainstay of the annual budgeting process in the nation’s 14,000 school districts. — This will appease conservative reform advocates by keeping performance pressure on schools.

2. Department of Education officials have said they also want to eliminate the school ratings system built on making “adequate yearly progress” on student test scores. — Hopefully the emphasis here is on eliminating test score criteria and not adequate yearly progress.

3. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, foreshadowed the elimination of the 2014 deadline in a September speech, referring to it as a “utopian goal,” and administration officials have since made clear that they want the deadline eliminated. — The 2014 goal sounded overly idealistic from the very beginning. I’m sure it was intended to put real pressure on educators, but—as per 2 above—adequate yearly progress was never properly formulated.

4. A new goal, which would replace the 2014 universal proficiency deadline, would be for all students to leave high school “college or career ready.” — This too will be hard to define (e.g. ready for which kind of higher education institution?). But career ready? In a lot cases, due to the devaluation of a college degree, being career ready is exactly the same as being college ready.

5. Currently more than 40 states are collaborating, in an effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and encouraged by the administration, to write common standards defining what it means to be a graduate from high school ready for college or a career. The new standards will also define what students need to learn in earlier grades to advance successfully toward high school graduation. — Okay, but I agree with E.D. Hirsch, as I articulated in point #6 here, that content standards must accompany process standards.

6. [NCLB] has been praised for focusing attention on achievement gaps, but it has also generated tremendous opposition, especially from educators, who contend that it sets impossible goals for students and schools and humiliates students and educators when they fall short. The law has, to date, labeled some 30,000 schools as “in need of improvement,” a euphemism for failing, but states and districts have done little to change them. The last serious attempt to rewrite the law was in 2007. That effort collapsed, partly because teachers’ unions and other educator groups opposed an effort to incorporate merit pay provisions into a rewritten law. — And Arne Duncan, as I understand it, is in favor of merit pay. So where will this rewrite go?

It sounds like the president’s team has the right general idea in reforming NCLB, but it won’t be smooth sailing. – TL

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