Making NCLB Happen

August 16, 2011 at 9:58 AM Leave a comment

I oppose NCLB waivers on the grounds that they undermine the rights of children who may have been underestimated by the very advocates they depend on for their futures. However, this was not meant to promote antagonism between or toward educators or their regulators. Working together is the only way to go. Indeed, regulatory third parties could provide the mediator role between school leaders and teachers in the short-run even as they rush to reinvent themselves and eliminate the regulatory sources of the conflict.

My last post was a bit out of synch with my self-proclaimed no-fault education reform stance. In my haste to preserve high standards for all children, I suggested that it was okay, and perhaps even beneficial, for districts to “be embarrassed in public” and to have regulators “all over their butts” if they were leaving high-risk children behind.  In reality, a collaborative approach to this painful self-examination is crucial to any successful outcome.

Urban schools need help raising the bar and building a better education system. Many other schools need to reinvigorate their programs to ensure that they have maintained historically high standards and practice inclusive excellence. Even more schools are pretty good, but would benefit from continuous quality improvement. So how can we as a nation begin to diagnose clusters of problems and address them in a scalable fashion?

The big picture foretells of 80+% of schools failing, and some would imply that the Feds will be running our school systems very soon. Loud calls for a government pull out have presumed failure as a foregone conclusion and proposed a remedy that ultimately abandons equal protection and due process under the law for at-risk children. However, we need to break down the problem to see the less draconian reality behind the numbers.

For those who think we are just getting too picky about all this anti-discrimination business…

  • Schools with subgroup failures have no fear of government takeover. They simply have to prove that they are not engaging in discriminatory practices that harm individuals in a particular demographic or disability grouping. And the proof is in achievement of proficiency within any relevant subgroup. A waiver to avoid this obligation would be unconstitutional in and of itself.
  • Schools demonstrating a recent history of improvement yet leaving too many students “needing Improvement” simply need to accelerate growth, accepting advice from policy makers. If progress from within an organization is not adequate, the search for external guidance is merely prudent.

Professional development is needed beyond the urban setting to share insight into breaking failure cycles within high-risk populations. Many privileged communities fail to fully assimilate newcomers into their most successful programs. Students who do not fit in immediately find themselves reassigned to alternative programs, losing access to honors classes and advanced placement. Struggling students within this underclass are among the first to be declared incapable of achievement on tests; however, they are being underestimated daily. Test scores continue to be good predictors of achievement in post-secondary education, and it is unconscionable to rely on alternative pathways that do not foster equity in academic preparation.

For those with persistent AYP failure…

In extreme cases, regulators may be given an iron grip over a school, but this power can be used with reason.  To date, a turnover-based policy of redistributing people without systemic change has produced more failure complicated by growing cynicism. As the number of schools being managed grows, this practice could be parodied as a giant game of Whack-An-Educator as people associated with failing schools are shuffled about within any troubled district. There is no end game in sight here.

The blame game was not invented in response to NCLB, but its accountabilities have sent finger-pointing into hyper mode. There has been a landslide of support for school leaders in their search for scapegoats among their teachers, which has been a driving force behind punitive teacher evaluations.  A backlash of support for teachers has been developing as these witch hunts have spun out of control. It is beginning to feel like we need a reset button to reestablish sanity and pursuit of solutions within a collaborative school community. Yes, unions and districts working together.

To help districts improve performance under NCLB, federal and state education leaders need to use their bully pulpit to engender genuine growth within schools based on trust, collaboration, and a persistent, i.e., more than eight-year, belief in equity for all children.  More specifically, regulators have the opportunity to develop models of management that…

  • Bring an end to treading teachers and assist school leaders in seeing all of their staff members.
  • Restore a level playing field for all teachers and objective bases for evaluation.
  • Encourage general management growth for school and district leaders, especially motivation of the total staff – not just the most obvious champions and freeloaders.
  • Sponsor experiments with weighted average funding of students to get more resources directly to the schools.
  • Differentiate between the need for professional development for more inclusive strategies for populations with high risk or special needs and systemic reform for toxic organizations.

For long-term improvement in the ESEA, I have suggested Seven Keys to Education Reform. Ultimately, Federal legislation must reflect a rethinking of the decision architecture that drives the education industry. Many dysfunctional actions among educational institutions originate at the Federal level. As national and state policy-makers ask educators to realign their organizations with their missions, a good look in the mirror is in order.


Entry filed under: Issues and Ideas. Tags: , .

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