Before 9/11 of 2001, there was an article printed in The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts titled “Bush’s education blueprint bound to be inadequate.” It was published on September 6th.
Bush’s education blueprint became No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The national discussion of the issues with this reauthorization of federal education law never rose above the rubble left behind by the unfathomable reality of that terrible September day. NCLB’s importance paled in comparison.
I’m presenting the essence of the inadequacies presented in that September 6th article— now— not to point blame at anything or anyone but in hopes of bringing up the conversations that were buried by the 9/11 national tragedy.
About Bush’s education blueprint, Gary Ratner wrote:
“Its approach —increasing accountability— does not address the fundamental need: providing effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for all students.”
“If we are serious about maximizing the possibility of all students succeeding, we must provide these conditions for all students.”
“…merely intensifying pressure on employees to improve performance does not succeed where they lack the required knowledge and skills.”
Ratner recommended that President Bush follow a different approach by breaking the chore of school improvement into doable, logical, targeted pieces based on what we know to be common elements of effective schools.
As to curriculum, make it challenging for all classes, for all students.
As to existing teachers, make their professional development directly relevant to improving classroom instruction specific to their needs and the needs of their students. Ensure this happens through a targeted investment in professional development budgets. And, provide better education and training for principals and superintendents so that they are better able to support teachers in improving instruction.
As to future teachers, financially support improvements in teacher preparation, and personally support those individuals seeking to become teachers as well as those existing teachers wishing to advance their education.
As to family supports for student learning, expand adult education programs and parenting skills classes as well as mentoring programs for the students who do not have sufficient family supports.
None of this is new. Some of this is even in the newest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, it is buried under the weight of the standards, testing, and accountability movements’ failed mechanisms of reform that have crippled our educational progress.
We do not have unlimited resources. We must make wise investments in our future.
Ask yourselves, has the progress been adequate enough to meet the needs of our students, our teachers, our families, and our nation?Can you see a better way forward?
How many Americans care about preserving the institution of public education?
REALITY: Not enough!
Proof? No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was Introduced in the House by John Boehner on March 22, 2001 and its destruction of public schools has gone on, and on, and on for 14 years — even though its faults were immediately recognized.
UPDATE: December 5, 2015— NCLB was changed after 15 years to another faulty law – ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). Everything here STILL APPLIES – unfortunately.
Recognition of the major flaw in the laws has not deterred lawmakers or the education system from putting detrimental “reform” practices into our schools and system. That is the reality as demonstrated in this September 2001 article by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools.
“Its approach— increasing accountability — does not address the fundamental need: providing effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for all students.”
What is NCLB?
“[NCLB]…is essentially just federal reinforcement of the states’ decade-old ‘standards, assessments and accountability’ movement…
…But history shows that approach is wholly inadequate…
…More of the same will not work…”
And Ratner and his organization developed a coalition of other like-minded organizations and individuals. They tried to draw attention to the problems with NCLB and to offer better solutions. One attempt was a full-page open letter to President Bush and Congress.
“The current Act fails to remedy the underlying problem: the need to dramatically improve the level and quality of Industrial Age teaching and family support for the millions of students the system never previously expected to perform well academically.”
Gary’s efforts, and those of many others, have continued. But the thing about Gary Ratner is that he actually organized and presented better ideas to Congress in 2004, wrote a better critique of NCLB than congressional members ever attempted, and even went so far as to take a chance on working with me at the grassroots level. That’s gutsy!
His efforts have been never-ending. Scroll down to the beginning of his news page and see for yourselves the long history of his involvement in this fight.
REALITY: Critical thinking, intelligence, knowledge, persistence,….dare we say “grit”….are what we want to see in American students but we ignore those characteristics in our citizens when it comes to lawmaking.
REALITY: Congress doesn’t give a damn what any of we minions want or what we need in education reform laws.
“No Child Left Behind” failed to live up to its name…period. After experimenting with the theory of standards, testing, and accountability, or as Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) wrote, after…
“…experimenting with our children — a whole generation of children, we know we left children behind”…
…the reality is, it’s time to STOP.
REALITY: We have never offered quality-learning opportunities to all children. No Child Left Behind only made that reality worse for children in low-income communities because it focused dollars on a standards-based system not on providing what children need in order to be able to take advantage of learning opportunities —when they are offered. Instead, competition created a race for scores. It produced scores without skills and instilled temporary knowledge in students without offering all of them opportunities to apply their knowledge. And NCLB once again proved that enforcement of “higher standards” is not the best first step in school improvement.
So in 2007 as the OFFICIAL deadline for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) approached —when NCLB should have been laid to rest—Ratner continued the effort to draw public attention to the real issues with NCLB. So what are we doing now? REALITY: We are pretending to turnover control of school improvement back to the states while insisting we still follow standards, testing, and accountability as the guiding principles for school improvement. We continue to ignore longstanding research on Effective Schools.
Should we expect that anyone in Congress has read and understood Gary Ratner’s attempt to assist in public development of skilled leadership, producing leaders knowledgeable in the common elements of effective schools, or have reviewed the 45 page University of the District of Columbia Law Review article on restructuring this broken law?
REALITY: We have set really, really low expectations for Congress.
Realistically, we are not going to agree with every aspect of any one person’s view. But, there is so much here to work with and, tragically, identifying problems and solving them is not how Congress has approached ESEA reauthorization at all. Congressional representatives —many of whom were in Congress for the signing of NCLB—should be able to explain why the law failed and how what they have now written fixes the problems. They haven’t.
REALITY: They don’t get it, so they can’t get it right.
The children in public schools need the public to support them. They are not represented by Congress. Children can’t win the war against the influential in public education let alone hold the line against those behind the scenes who are the REALLY BIG movers and shakers in the lawmaking process. Those people are the ones that had no qualms about experimenting on the children who became the modern-day Lost Generation. That generation, who are now young adults, are the “product” of both NCLB’s education policy and financial policies that created the deep money pit of the Great Recession. Together, those policies created by Congress undercut the future for our youth.
REALITY: The influential are not looking out for our future.
Will we? We can. #SunsetNCLB #GetESEArightWe didn’t get ESEA right. Are we going to wait and see how ESSA “works”? Knowing the major flaw of NCLB is still the basis of ESSA, let’s do the right thing and end the era of education reform insanity. #RepealESSA #MakeESEAright
For the quickest pathto educational improvement — or to dismantling of the public education system — look no further than leadership.
If we want to improve schools, we need skilled leadership educated and experienced in school improvement processes. The question is, do the American people want those leaders trained by outside sources or developed within our own public education system? If we choose to go private, do we know what the leaders will be trained to do and how?
Joanne Barkin covered the private philanthropic efforts in leadership training quite well in “Got Dough: How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”
Barkin explains “their vision” is “market-based.” Market-based education reform means seeing education as a commodity so reforms are based on demand, supply, and pricing. The vision was sold to us based on the assumption that higher test scores mean better education. The theory relies on parental and public demand for better “outcomes” as driven by high-stakes standardized testing.
The demand for higher scores has pushed the perceived need for charters, vouchers, higher standards, better tests, and longitudinal data systems to track every student and teacher. And when these pseudo-reforms fail to improve our lowest-performing schools, closure of schools and redistribution of students into the marketplace is now a reform. And leaders have been privately trained in these pseudo-reform methods. There is a school closure manual to follow!
The biggest private providers of leadership training?
“They” include Marc Tucker and his National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) and Eli Broad (pronunciation rhymes with road) with his Broad Center programs. But as Barkin put it, “both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are ‘pipelines’.”
Ken Libby and Stan Karp explain, “The [Broad] Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.”
Libby and Karp quote from a memo they obtained boasting,
“We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education.”
Working from “inside” of education is Marc Tucker’s for-profit NISL. Tucker is a former Carnegie Corporation employee and current president of the D.C. think-tank the “National” Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).
As scholar John M. Perella documented in “A Critical Study of the National Institute for School Leadership in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
NISL launched with “$11 million in research and development grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Broad Foundation, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Stupski Foundation and NCEE” (p 4).
“From 2001-2004, The Broad Foundation “kicked in 3.5 million’”and NISL began to put together teams of ‘the best and brightest’ for the purposes of creating a curriculum for NISL (p107).
Dr. Perella described his NISL training as an impressive combination of applying “military and business strategies to educational issues.” But he questioned the foundational philosophy of the institution and looked for answers. His findings revealed “strong elements of both privatization efforts and neoliberalism within the NISL program.”
“From a critical perspective, the most alarming issue with NISL is in regards to the voice of the program. With voice comes power. Whose voice does NISL accentuate? Whose view of how public education should operate is expressed through NISL? Specifically, it is important to ask whose voice is not being heard.” (p137)
This particular “pipeline” has been working towards producing “leaders” for the market-based systemic privatization of public education since 1999. This for-profit has been granted your federal dollars.
The newest twist is having the House adopt “Pay for Success” as part of their grand scheme for ESEA reauthorization (Elementary and Secondary Education Act/ No Child Left Behind). This section of H.R. 5 is written to put taxpayer dollars into private teacher and leadership development programs. With the creator of the outcome-based theory leading the pack in leadership development, Tucker’s NISL has their documented success already on their website. But is this how WE want to judge “success” in education – based on arbitrarily set “cut scores”?
Shouldn’t our leaders vision for schools represent OUR vision?
People NEED TO KNOW that much of what they see happening in public education – now – is a result of leaders that have been churned out through the Broad Superintendents Academy, the Broad Residency, and NISL. We have no way of knowing how many graduates of this neoliberal, privatization philosophy we have working within our public institutions up to and including our own U.S. Department of Education.
Here is its foundational philosophy:
A “principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction” along with “teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery” are two correlates of Effective Schools. “Effective Schools” are high achieving schools with a high percentage of their students from low-income families and a high percentage being children of a color other than white. Leadership matters in matters of instruction.
Another correlate is “a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus”; this requires a leader that can communicate.
And effective schools do use “measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation,” which was the annual requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.
We don’t have to reinvent any wheels.
The “National Education Leadership Academy Act” is written for us.
Written by Gary Ratner, Director of Citizens for Effective Schools
Many citizens and education policy leaders, particularly civil rights leaders, continue to hold on to the failed test-based practices of No Child Left Behind. But what they don’t seem to realize is that if we are to improve the learning opportunities for those students being left behind, we have to have capable, responsive, responsible school leadership in all our schools.
This draft is a detailed plan to develop school leadership aimed at strengthening and improving the public education system while addressing one root of the existing problem of unequal access to quality education – state and local leadership “capacity.” Developing leadership capacity is a responsibility that must be met.
We identified the states that have demonstrated over the last 13 years that they can’t adequately and consistently improve the schools most in need of help. I know; I live in one.
We have identified the same districts and schools over and over since my kids started school here in Idaho in 1992. It never mattered which standards, which tests, which label, or which accountability system we used, the same schools keep coming back on the list – if they ever leave it (which was usually when we changed accounting or moved kids around). Some states lack the capacity to improve themselves.
The larger institution of public education is capable of training quality leadership. But it lacks the capacity to meet our current needs because our lawmakers have been an instrument of privatization – our public dollars creating a steady stream of capital into private pockets. What now?
The country is in a position to build leadership capacity. With ESEA reauthorization moving forward in Congress, we have the opportunity to choose an alternative to the direction we have been going for the last 30 years.
Do we have legislative and executive leadership that will do the right thing? If our leaders will be guided by the People – which way will the People direct them?
Privatize the system or remain public; America’s Choice.
Excerpt from The Crucial Voice: Chapter 5 What Is the Problem? Why Children Get Left Behind
WHAT WE HAVE IS A SYSTEMIC FAILURE
The system has failed to thoroughly educate the public about educational issues. Our inaction on this long-ago identified problem has led us to accept the unacceptable. As Yong Zhao observed in his book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, “The American public, short of other easy-to-understand measures, seems to have accepted the notion that test scores are an accurate measure of the quality of their schools” (2009, 33). It is not right.
The takeover of our education policy and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process has not been a result of the “business-model”; it has been a result of a greed-driven, self-serving society. It has brought more education wars: competition in opposition to cooperation, choice against commonality, rigor versus flexibility. Stop. The collateral damage has been too great.
The system has failed to show understanding of the learning environment that needs to be created in classrooms and in communities to provide what children need to be educated to their fullest potential. We have unknowingly created another “gap”—the wisdom gap. It is reminiscent of the story of the old man picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back. A young boy thinking it foolish tells the old man, “it doesn’t matter; they’ll wash up again tomorrow.” The old man flings one far into the sea and says, “It mattered to this one.” That story didn’t just demonstrate that we can save one at a time; it also expressed the vision of the elder passing on wisdom to our youth.
Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and understanding. It comes with time. And as John Taylor Gatto expressed in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present” (2005, 21). Gatto originally wrote that book in 1992 and used the term “pseudo-community.” In far too many places today, our “present” is no different from our past. Our nation is at risk.
But remember, not all schools are a problem. Schools that fail to properly educate children have a common underlying issue, as expressed by Ratner, “the absence of the key human resources” necessary to be effective (2007, 22). And if “academic proficiency” is our educational goal, current policies incorrectly assume “that schools and districts already know what to do to accomplish this goal and have the capacity to do so. . . . And it incorrectly assumes that if districts cannot turn failing schools around, the state departments of education have the capacity to assist them to do so, or, if necessary, to do it themselves” (49).
Capacity means possessing the knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, and desire to accomplish a goal. In the case of school improvement, it means being able to take the handbook off the shelf and make things happen. First, we have to stop blaming each other. And then as Philip K. will tell you, “We must put aside our differences.”
We’ve all heard teachers who complained about how “the families of their students simply did not value education” (Noguera, 2003, 47). Yet it turns out that this statement, as Noguera points out in his story, was made by people who in reality didn’t know this to be true. It was and continues to be an assumption. If lawmakers and educators are out there “blaming uncaring parents, lazy students, or a society that does not provide adequately for the needs of poor children” (49), they need to stop playing the no-win blame game so we can get on with meeting our shared responsibility to serve the educational and developmental needs of all children.
When we have underperforming schools anywhere in our country, we have a systemic problem. If you believe there is no way to “reform” the public school system, then it is understandable that you would want to throw in the towel and privatize the whole business. But there is another choice.
Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005.
Noguera, Pedro A. City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, 2003.
Ratner, Gershon (Gary) M. Why the No Child Left Behind Act Needs to be Restructured to Accomplish Its Goals and How to Do It. University of the District of Columbia Law Review, David A. Clark School of Law, Vol.9, Number 1, Winter 2007.
Zhao, Yong. Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia, 2009.
What does equal educational opportunity mean to you? It is the American people’s answer to that question that should guide us. To take proper aim at fulfilling the Dream, we need a national vision. We have to see a realistic path forward and what has stood in the way of achieving the dream.
This is how one forgotten American, Edwin E. Slosson, explained equality.
“Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”
But have we associated our educational shortcomings not with an “overall” poor system but with one that continues to have pockets of inequalities, big and small, that accumulate like so much sludge in an engine? Do we see unequal distribution of quality education as the problem?
Part of Martin Luther King’s Dream was about children getting a quality public school education no matter where they live, their skin color, or how poor. … I hope this issue still matters to people today.
So what does that dream look like?
Here’s what it looks like to me: Children from all walks of life enter classrooms where their teachers actions and words convey the expectation that each and every student can learn what’s needed for them to fulfill their own personal potential and pursue their own interests in life. The instruction children receive is not based on predictions biased by color, race, socioeconomic background, or standardized scores; but rather, quality education for all is based on twin expectations.
All students will be seen as capable and will be expected to do their personal best. And the public schools will provide challenging, stimulating, relevant learning opportunities that meet their student’s needs. That is how equal access to quality education is provided.
For children to be ready to make the most of the educational opportunity offered in this vision, the community must step up to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. Schools cannot fulfill their responsibility without parents and communities first fulfilling theirs. We need to define what having children “ready to learn” means.
The American people must provide answers.
Our duty is to enlighten each other and guide lawmakers.
Equality, governing by the consent of the governed, liberty and justice—these were our basic American values. Are they still?
Once upon a time, education law embodied our values. At this time —can we— will we define and secure equal educational opportunity? How else can we possibly fulfill our constitutional responsibility to resist aristocracy — “a ruling class” of any sorts — and instead establish rule through the consent of an enlightened people.
As John F. Kennedy explained it,
“Our present American education system was rounded on the principle that opportunity for education in this country should be available to all—not merely to those who have the ability to pay.”