No Child Left Behind is a great name for a law on education reform. But on a practical level, the 2002 law hasn’t done much to crank out a country-full of high-achieving learners as much as it has helped America’s students and teachers become more creative test-takers and givers.
There have been improvements for some schools to be sure. But as a nationwide, sweeping reform, NCLB as it stands can’t cut it.
So in a speech at a Washington, D.C.-area middle school, President Obama called for Congress to reform the reform law — right now! — and turn it into something that will get all of the nation’s school kids ready for college and able to compete with the world’s students, a significant number of whom way outperform American kids.
This may be some positioning as his re-election campaign has to start heating up. But Obama has pointed to fixes in areas that have been criticized by the original bill’s own authors. Here are the three areas he wants Congress to focus on first, according to a White House press release:
- A fair accountability system that shares responsibility for improvement and rewards excellence, and that is based on high standards and is informed by sophisticated assessments that measure individual student growth;
- A flexible system that empowers principals and teachers, and supports reform and innovation at the state and local level;
- And a system focused on the schools and the students most at risk — that targets resources to persistently low-performing schools and ensures the most effective teachers serve students most in need.
One problem with NCLB is that it schools either met the set of goals laid out by the law or it didn’t and issued punishment accordingly (closed the school, shifted leaders, etc.) Reform and steady progress was all but ignored, which meant a singular focus on passing the test — whether kids learned how to learn, learned to think critically, indulged in a love of science or the arts was completely secondary … if that.
Instead of punishing schools which, based solely on their test scores, were deemed “failing,” Obama wants Congress to build into the law incentives for failing schools willing to reform. The president also calls for more sophisticated and better testing of a school’s performance than a single set of tests given on one day.
The president also wants the law to focus on teacher and principal improvement and support. If you follow education reform closely, you’ve surely heard stories of some schools turning themselves around — and quickly. What’s noticeable in most of those cases is that — instead of wholesale firing of teachers and replacing them or turning to school into a charter — the school’s had a great leader who was interested in improving teachers and they worked together as a team. Rather than working alone, teachers supported each other and their principal’s supported the teachers — not by threatening them but by letting go of ego and just working together.
A final note on this round of reforms is that Obama calls for giving schools resources to make those changes. Below is the president’s short address:
The last 12+ months could easily be called the Year of Education (or, at least, the Year Education Got Everyone’s Attention). We saw the rise and fall of D.C.’s Michelle Rhee, surely the only school’s chancellor to become a household name for an entire country. There were not one, not two, but easily a handful of engaging movies that considered the current state of education, be it access to a good one or what a supposedly good one really gets you. There was a court ruling that could result in better, more experienced teachers in schools serving the least advantaged kids — at least in Los Angeles. We saw more rounds of the federal government’s competitive grants, Race to the Top, being awarded and the emotion fall-out from the also-rans.
Until recently, education reform has kind of been background noise, coming up only when those international test scores make Americans look like bozos. Will a new NCLB make a difference?