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.

Choices We Must Make

No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA) has forced the direction of education “reform” without bringing to the table those who understand the needs of our communities and our children — the real stakeholders — the People. The choices we wanted in policy were never brought to the decision-making table.

That federal law combined with our financial wrong turns as a nation and the misguided reforms of the last three decades has brought public education to a crossroads. Only as a united nation can we prevent the system from being brought to its knees.The choices made in the federal law No Child Left Behind experimented on the nation's public schools. That experiment failed to produce reforms.Choices must be made.

Provide standardized education for the masses with individualized instruction for the lucky few and those that can afford it, or provide equal access to quality education?

Allow teaching to become another low-wage trade, ripe for outsourcing and importing, or remain a profession that we can continuously improve?

Spend our education dollars to support privatization of public schools, or invest in supporting and strengthening the institution of public education?

Continue to follow the pretense of reforms, or solve local school improvement problems?

Keep —through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the failed national practices cemented in place by No Child Left Behind, or force politicians to listen and act upon the choices that should have been on the table to begin with?

Decide and Take Action

Decide and Take Action!

There is an alternative and federal law requires lawmakers to evaluate and update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB/ESSA) in 2020. But if we don’t put our choices on the table, the law will not serve us well. Isn’t that what we learned from the failed No Child Left Behind experiment?

Reason for Hope

Leaders — NOT the ones you see and hear about in the news but the kind that I saw in action last week at a local high school. There are men and women in the trenches of real school reform that should give us all reason for hope. These are leaders that embrace solutions.

First step – open your arms wide. Take in the community. Connect.connect-20333_150

School principals have a responsibility to “work with the teachers … and serve our kids and their families” (to quote another common person).  These are the people that make real reform happen. They have the responsibility to improve education for every student but they don’t always have the power, control, and freedom to do it. This is why “we” need to better define the governing roles in our education system.

The principal IS the most important person in the hierarchy of school administration – in my opinion. And in too many cases that I have witnessed, they aren’t being treated as such or allowed the time to do their jobs effectively.

So last week having witnessed a principal working to develop community partnerships by first stressing that the focus is the students was uplifting. And watching him acknowledge through actions and words that it will take teachers, counselors, other staff, and the community to create opportunities for students should serve as a reminder that it is this philosophy of practice that policy and funding should support.

I hope readers out there won’t be fooled again by the language (messaging) associated with the re-writing of No Child Left Behind (called ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). When you hear the words “restore local control,” ask; “how exactly?”

When principals embrace positive change and have education laws supporting them, great things will happen!

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?