The Child Left Behind

The child left behind isn’t always obvious.

The obviously educationally deprived children have been well documented—repeatedly. They are represented by the demographic categories (disaggregated data) of No Child Left Behind in an attempt to bring attention and resources to those groups to correct their education deficit. But in this plan, have we stopped to observe what we have created, to assess what is happening and ask, who is the child left behind and why should I care?

education-quotes-52b.288120633_stdHistory, experiences, research, and common sense tell us that well-educated people are better able to resist political oppression, live longer and healthier lives, and are less likely to be incarcerated or require long-term social services.

  • We obviously believe health care is an issue worthy of our attention.
  • We all have heard that our country throws more people in jail on a per capita basis that most others.
  • We talk about the importance of an educated, informed electorate.

We seem to comprehend educations’ importance to issues important to us. Yet on the subject of our education system, we fail to be up in arms when we most definitely should be.27669fc6d3a584c886c93a40f1686f94

2007 is when No Child Left Behind should have been updated or trashed. That date came and went with people across the country complaining —but no wide-spread action was taken en-mass. Our inaction spoke volumes. It told the Powers-That-Be to do with this law what they will. They did nothing.

And worse still, they continued to use a very narrow set of statistics to decide the fate of children across this country. But what if yours wasn’t or isn’t “statistically significant”?

The child left behind is the child that falls through the cracks. And during the Great Recession, our economic decline in most states translated to budget cuts for education. The cracks got wider. In the past, today, or in the future, there is a very good chance the child left behind is in some way related to you.

And we, as a society, we have failed to provide safety nets for children in far too many instances. So in addition to asking who we are leaving behind, we have to ask “Why?” We can not remedy a problem when we won’t face the causes. There are many but none of them are so huge and impossible that they defy our understanding—if we care enough to try. None of them are so costly that we can’t afford to fix them. We have reached the point where we can’t afford not to be successful in improving public education.

As individuals, we must rethink our priorities given the fact that the child left behind may not be who you think it is.

The child left behind can be in any demographic group. The child could be white, middle-class, and English-speaking. If this child is also quiet and well-behaved, the possibility of falling through the cracks is very real and likely. Many a child cursed with being “nice” and “average” has gone that way. This is the child that will be “statistically insignificant” and these cracks are widened by larger class sizes and less individual attention.

That is a fact. It isn’t stated to take anything away from the dire need to address the children on whom the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) focused. That law meant to supply additional funding for impoverished children targeted specifically for teacher development, instructional materials, support programs, and parental education.

The No Child Left Behind version of ESEA established a very different aim — closing the achievement gap. The result has been more funds spent on tests and data collection leaving less money for individual educational needs. And that is why we should all care about getting ESEA right.

It is only through addressing individual needs that we will offer access to quality education for all children. In other words, offering equal educational opportunity means truly leaving no child behind.

Closing the achievement gap is a standards and testing across-the-board attempt to give us the “right” numbers. Offering equal opportunity is the promise of America. Fulfilling that promise is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.

#SunsetNCLB Stop the damage. End the Bush era weapon of educational mass destruction.

#SunsetNCLB Stop the damage. End the Bush era weapon of educational mass destruction.

Sunset No Child Left Behind; Roll Back ESEA.

Changing No Child Left Behind

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”
                                                                                                  Charles Kettering

As we know, change doesn’t mean progress. It is only through sustained, steady, thoughtful change —in the right direction— that we will make progress towards a goal.

For over seven years, No Child Left Behind (NCLB/ESEA – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has sat stalled in Congress. After all this time, the American people should not let Congress push through a bill that does not “fix” what is so very wrong with this law. The goal, theory, and methods should all be opened up for close scrutiny.

We need a strong and reasonable federal education law to guide us. We need two “standards” as cornerstones for American education, quality and opportunity.

Changing the Law to Move Us Forward

First, take a look back…..

The law once honored "twin" goals.

The law once honored “twin” goals.

No Child Left Behind set a very different goal – focused on test scores and federal “accountability.” We can’t afford to continue doing what has proven to be detrimental for too many of our students. It’s not right!

We need Congress to end the misguided mandates and focus the law on preserving and strengthening the whole public system as well as going back to focusing on educationally deprived students.

Progress would mean setting policy to move us towards:

  • Wise Investment in Meeting Children’s Needs,
  • Personalized Learning,
  • Meaningful, Systemic Accountability, and
  • Support for Continuous School Improvement.

We have a Guiding Principle (Sec. 101 Amendments): The Congress declares it to be the policy of the United States that a high-quality education for all individuals and a fair and equal opportunity to obtain that education are a societal good, are a moral imperative, and improve the life of every individual, because the quality of our individual lives ultimately depends on the quality of the lives of others.

To have our representatives not read and understand the law is doing business as usual.

To have the people uninformed and unable to weigh in on the law is to bypass the consent of the People. Haven’t we had enough of that?

The public deserves to have the faults in the law made clear in order to judge for ourselves whether or not congress is doing justice to the issue.

Words Are Not Enough

Flotsam is the wreckage of a ship or its cargo, worthless things, unemployed people.

Jetsam is that part of the cargo thrown overboard to lighten a ship in danger.

The only reason I looked those words up in a dictionary was because Martin Luther King, Jr. hit a chord with me when he spoke these words: “I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding of events which surround him.” Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964

And knowing that the “March on Washington” in 1963 was organized to urge Congress to pass John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill calling for equal opportunity in employment and education, I have thought long and hard about the children in this country being treated like flotsam and jetsam.

I know MLK was more focused on the unemployed adults at the time that he spoke those words, but children are people too, and much less likely to be able to influence events that can engulf them and take them under. They need us so desperately to do the right thing and stop ignoring the challenges they face that we can influence.

The March is Unfinished.

The poster says it all.

The poster says it all.

Today we celebrate his birthday of January 15, 1929. And many of his words will forever be recalled. But words are not enough.

Let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.” April 3, 1968

RIP April 4, 1968

Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ’It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Fred Rogers

When we have under-performing schools anywhere in our country, do we see it as a systemic problem? Do we think it is our shared responsibility to support the educational and developmental needs of all children where and when they need us to do so?

The education reform war reached a new crescendo over “accountability.” We have come to talk and think in terms of “accountability” but the word is interchangeable with “responsibility.”

I have come to believe that we need an accountability system that respects the local responsibility, has true state accountability for equitable resources, and recognizes a federal duty to monitor progress for the purpose of providing guidance and support.

So if we want to continue to look at the issue of “improvement” in terms of “reform,” school reform is a local responsibility. States are charged with an accounting of inputs and outcomes to provide meaningful oversight. And the federal government should oversee the broader topic of “education reform” as it applies to the necessities of maintaining a strong republic based on equal opportunity and American excellence.

Everyone should know by now that top-down education mandates for accountability tied to higher “achievement” scores has only furthered our resistance to change, made a bad situation worse for many, and escalated the education wars. The scholars are fighting over issues the people can’t understand, while citizens are growing frustrated and walking away. This fighting must end.

Children need us to form partnerships. Partnerships aren’t a way to shift responsibility; they are a way to share it.

If we see educating children as a societal obligation, if the focus is children, our responsibility is to be responsive to them.

What now? Lives lost but not the innocence of our next generation.

What now?

They need us to negotiate a truce.

 

 

Reflections: Finish the Fight

“… for far, far too long we have closed the doors of our classrooms so as not to see the inequalities occurring within them. We closed the doors behind us as we met in our committees to argue the wording of our new plans. And our representatives closed the doors to the People and ignored the daily struggles of parents just wanting a fair shot at what they believe is best for their children, a quality education. The children are seated, today. That is the ‘fierce urgency of now.’

What makes us think it is alright to cram students into over-crowded classrooms where maintaining discipline may end up being nothing more than making them sit like a dog? What makes us think that it is acceptable to offer some students activities that stimulate the love of learning and not offer similar opportunities to all? What makes us think that inequality in opportunity is acceptable for America’s children? It isn’t. Voices have risen and been ignored. It is time to stop accepting the unacceptable!

These were my own words and today, I reflect.

I hope you will also; The March Begins

A Reflective Lincoln

A Reflective Lincoln

In a Word – Expectations

Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.

And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.

The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”

An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.

“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.

Reaching for goals, together.

Reaching for goals, together.

So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.

And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains, “Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.

We should use the power of expectations in our classrooms and communities.

This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for “…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”

This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.

Principles as a Foundation

What principlesfundamental truths upon which we act— do we stand upon when judging education laws and practices?

In the 1960’s, the country saw the value in improving the quality of education and believed all children in America deserved access to educational opportunities, equally.

Many understood that civil rights mean citizen’s rights – even our youngest citizens were included in the consideration of equal rights under the law. Thus, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encouraged desegregation of schools as a means of equalizing opportunity.

Segregated schools were discouraged - equality was encouraged.

Segregated schools were discouraged – equality was encouraged.

Back then, we believed we were capable of delivery on the ideal of equal opportunity, at least to children. And the lawmakers of that time saw a different way, other than forced busing, to do it.

Education law stood on this fundamental truth; it is deemed imperative to put in place within the system the dissemination of “promising educational practices” to better ensure their use.

So the “educational brain trust” in Washington D.C. at that time, including longtime Republican and founder of Common Cause, John W. Gardner – along with other lesser-known people from both political parties – wrote the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Title I, the touchstone of ESEA, is a particularly complex idea. The federal funding was for assistance of “children of low-income families.” But the architects of the law understood that it was more than just the low-income children affected by low-income community schools because schools in poverty-ridden areas are “inherently unequal” when compared to schools in more affluent areas —the children in them are disadvantaged. But they also understood that the focus must always stay on meeting the needs of the identified children.

When you add in the other educational supports of ESEA—material resources, additional applicable services, proven practices, teacher and counselor development, and training to develop responsive state leadership—you do improve the quality of education for all but it begins with addressing a known disadvantage, poverty.

But with each reauthorization of ESEA, the law was modified further and further from its original focus – disadvantaged children living in poorer communities.

Today, I’m not sure that we stand on the ideal of equal opportunity at all. I’m not sure we understand what equal educational opportunity means. I don’t think the country has any vision for what that concept might look like, or, mean for them, or, its importance for the United States.

Part 8 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

The March Begins

Think back to the early 1960’s or if you are too young to recall, go read about the history of that era and try to imagine what it was like. The United States had intentionally racially segregated schools. And much like today, we had a gaping socioeconomic divide that left poor children and rich children with very different schools.

Go back a bit further in our history to 1896 and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that was based on the doctrine of “separate but equal.” That legal segregation of public schools by the states stood for 58 years until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 which stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The door for the Civil Rights Movement and the resultant Civil Rights Act of 1964 was opened.

As a republic, we saw the value in improving the quality of education and believed all children in America deserved access to opportunities, equally. We believed education was a “hand up,” out of poverty, and that we were capable of delivery on the ideal of equal opportunity, at least to children. And we saw a way to do it through materials and services that support teaching and learning, better university training of teachers and counselors, and better distribution of “best practices” to the communities where they were most needed. We once focused federal education law on providing the needed “inputs” for educating the disadvantaged.

And it seems we need reminding that the March on Washington in 1963 was organized to urge Congress to pass John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill calling for equal opportunity in employment and education.

The March down the road to equal educational opportunity began.

Marching Towards a Dream

Marching Towards a Dream

This is the first in a series of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality. Read on, march on!

Understanding the Choices

The last two blogs written here for your consideration were titled “Choice in School Reform” and “Choice in Education Reform.” And no, I’m not fully losing “it” yet. My choice of words (no pun intended) was intentional. School reform and education reform are two different things but intimately importance to each other.

School reform should target the proven elements of effective schools. It’s an improvement process that directly affects students and includes; safe schools with classroom climates that nurture learning, school leadership fostering quality instruction, highly educated teachers expecting a level of mastery from all students and understanding the proper use of pupil assessments in monitoring progress. And last but not least, family and community support for schools and their students.

Education reform should be a focus on systemic reform – providing quality assurance and equal opportunity. And as I’ve stated before, reform starts with identifying the problems. Are all schools the problem? No. So why do the current powers that be continue to target all schools with one-size-fits-all “reform” laws? It isn’t the path we originally started down. This diversionary route we are on never made sense.

Education reform should not interfere with school reform. The only way to stop the ongoing harm and destruction is to understand what has happened and what we need to do to get back on the right path. For…”No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding” Plato — and this is where my book begins.