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NCLB Outrages

Real Education Reform Real Possible, Real Quick

Ohanian Comment: This ugly screed is a month old but you wouldn't want to miss the metaphor: comparing public education to Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

When are colleges of education going to fight back--instead of buring their heads in the same, hoping NCLB and its offspring will go away? If the professors stood up, maybe teachers would follow. The silence is harming children, and it's harming our profession.

Reforming public education is a little like trying to clean up network television.

It's exasperating, overwhelming, and actual progress seems well beyond the ken of common folk. You may see something uplifting and encouraging happen, but as soon as you start believing the culture's on an upswing, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake start dancing again.

That's not unlike public education.

Here and there, test scores improve a bit. Now and then, tiny bands of revolutionaries rise up against the status quo, like the advocates for vouchers for poor kids in Washington, D.C., or charter-school supporters.

But by and large, even the most committed reformers marvel at how slowly change comes to America's public-ed monolith. How impervious it seems to the pebbles those little folk fling at its head.

In some ways President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation contributes to that sense that nothing significant may ever happen to meaningfully improve how kids are taught.

It is a federal program, after all, and federal programs are rarely very good at sparking innovation. Sure, NCLB sets standards that schools need to meet, but its very existence flies in the face of how we instinctually view education: Change that occurs locally, or at least at no more distance than the state level, is the most effective change.

But change really is possible. Real change that would improve the lot of students in real classrooms within a year or two of implementation can occur. Really.

Two years from now--in a single year, even-- Arizona classrooms can begin filling up with teachers with a wealth of knowledge to share. They are the would-be teachers currently barred from entering K-12 classrooms in Arizona (or, for that matter, most any state) because they have refused to endure the torturous teacher-credentialing process that effectively weeds out academically ambitious students from the pool of potential teachers.

As is the case in many states, the state Board of Education in Arizona sets the standards required for becoming credentialed as a teacher. They can change that. If they had the strength of will, they could do it this year.

To become a high-school teacher, the board says college kids must pass 30 credit-hours worth of education courses, only eight of which involve practical student-teacher experience in real classrooms.

To become an elementary or middle-school teacher, the brain-deadening burden is half again as heavy. Students must pass 45 credit hours of education course work. In other words, they must devote more than a third of their entire college experience to learning how to teach rather than to learning what to teach.

Countless studies have railed against the academic folly of devoting such huge portions of a student's college experience to course work that is almost universally derided as empty. The end result - actually, one of several unfortunate end results of such a system - is that academically motivated students look elsewhere for jobs.

The most recent demand for just such change was issued by The Teaching Commission, a high-powered, blue-ribbon panel chaired by former IBM Chairman Louis V. Gerstner Jr.

The commission on Jan. 14 offered up a series of proposals for reforming the teaching profession and recruiting and retaining quality teachers. Right up there, alongside better pay for good teachers and making teachers more directly accountable for student progress, is the process of streamlining teacher-certification:

"In order to make the profession more attractive to a wide range of qualified candidates, (the study) calls for streamlining the cumbersome bureaucracy that surrounds teacher licensure," the commission reported last month.

These are changes that can happen almost tomorrow, given the will. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne insists he is committed to sponsoring just this kind of reform. The Legislature - the once-revolutionary body that years ago created the nation's freest charter-school system - allegedly is full of lawmakers also eager to effect such change. What are they all waiting for?

Well, a lot of them, I'm told, are waiting for the Board of Education, the body that controls teacher credentialing, to show some real interest in such reform.

For every year the powers-that-be ignore the need for reform, innumerable smart, capable, would-be teachers leave college to do something else.

What a waste. Foot-dragging on genuine reform of the teacher-credentialing process is far must devote more than a third of their entire college experience to learning how to teach rather than to learning what to teach.
more damaging than a Super Bowl full of Janets and Justins. And what a terrifying image that is.

Reach MacEachern at doug.maceachern@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8883.

— Doug MacEachern
Arizona Republic


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