Mr. Obama and No Child Left Behind
Do they have a dictionary at the editorial office? Would it do any good to suggest they look up the definition of "rigor?" Just who wants that applied to their children>
Is there any kind of fine-grained data system that could improve the quality of education editorial writing?
President Obama's blueprint for reworking the No Child Left Behind Education Act of 2002 has good ideas, but it doesn't have anything close to the rigor that the word "blueprint" would suggest. Whether the president's plan will strengthen or weaken the program will depend on how the administration fleshes out the missing details -- and how Congress rewrites the law.
Teachers' unions, state governments and other interest groups have long wanted to water down or kill off the provision of the law that requires the states to raise student performance -- especially for poor and minority children-- in exchange for federal money. They will likely gin up their lobbying. Congress must resist.
President Obama's blueprint adheres to the principles first set by former President George W. Bush. The new proposal, however, would focus federal sanctions and monitoring heavily on the relatively small number of chronically failing schools and allow better-run schools more flexibility to fix themselves. That makes sense, but only if the latter group is not allowed to shortchange poor and minority children.
The current system designates schools as needing improvement if they miss progress targets. The Obama proposal calls for employing a new model that gives schools credit for improving student performance, even if the schools miss the targets. This, too, makes sense, as long as the improvement being rewarded is significant.
The plan introduces a new element: giving financial rewards and greater flexibility to schools and districts that show large improvements in student learning. This seems sensible, as long as lawmakers understand that both incentives (federal money) and punishments (federal sanctions) are necessary to move school systems forward.
The most exciting section of the Obama proposal deals with new strategies for getting states to measure, develop and improve the effectiveness of teachers, principals and programs in teacher-preparation.
If Congress adopts the plan, states would be required to create new, fine-grained data systems that rate teachers and principals based in significant part on the performance of their students. These ratings could be used to reward strong educators, create training programs for newcomers, and assess the effectiveness of teacher-preparation programs.
The evaluation systems could have an enormous effect on the quality of the profession and the quality of education. But right now most states lack the capacity to perform sophisticated, data-driven studies and evaluations. While Congress should require this reform, it should not set unrealistic deadlines. Some observers think it could take as long as a decade before the states develop the systems, test them for accuracy and fairness and put them in place.
The country cannot sit on its hands until then. In the meantime, Congress and the Department of Education should be pushing the states to come up with more rigorous evaluations using the tools they already have.
That means observing teachers more closely in their early years so that the less-capable ones are either trained up or weeded out. States also need to take a much closer look at the quality of teachers assigned to schools with poor and minority children -- the primary focus of the No Child Left Behind law. Eight years later, federal data show that these children are still disproportionately taught by inexperienced teachers who have not majored in the subjects they teach.
Better systems for gathering and evaluating information about teacher and student performance are important. But states could use the information they have now to improve schooling for this country's children.
New York Times
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