At the National School Boards Association conference in Boston on Saturday, NSBA President Mary Broderick sent a tersely worded letter to President Obama urging him to work hand in hand with Congress to abandon the current “command-and-control” federal education oversight of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Unfortunately, I have no hope that the NCLB/ Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be reauthorized during the 2012 election year, therefore no change in the law will occur.
It is now five years beyond its original reauthorization target year of 2007. Both houses of Congress have made good-faith attempts at the rewrite for this politically charged federal legislation. The further the timeline is extended, the more the current law becomes farcical. The schools that will not be meeting federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals with the 2012 test results come close to 70 percent and it’s getting worse.
During the next few weeks all public schools and their testing coordinators—usually principals, assistant principals and counselors—will be spending most of their time preparing for the very secure California Standards Testing. They will begin by unwrapping the cellophane of each testing packet, counting and distributing the tests, sharpening hundreds or thousands of No. 2 pencils, rearranging school schedules, going over protocols with faculty, collecting tests, counting them 2-3 times, locking them in secure testing closets, and much more.
The regular school schedules are abandoned, periods are lengthened for testing, instructional periods are shortened, and the students are usually not very excited about spending 5-8 days, off and on, filling in circles—completely that is—on an answer sheet for each question. This rite of spring is done for the sake of accountability for federal AYP scores and California state Academic Performance Index (API) scores.
For me, Broderick’s National School Board letter to the President was insightful, taking suggestions from a variety of state school board leaders from across the nation. Here are portions of the letter I endorse as one individual school board member:
“We want for each American child that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, and creativity.”
“Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children.”
“Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.”
“…(W)e can learn from Finland: It holds teachers in high regard (appealing to competence). Teacher training includes a strong feedback loop; professional development is embedded in the work, through coaching and ongoing support.”
“Across the nation, I have heard growing support for an emphasis on the early years. To close the achievement gaps, we must provide rich learning environments for children born with the least. We need to teach their parents how to encourage their learning.”
“Mr. President, pubic education in the U.S. is on the wrong track…I urge you to convene a national dialogue…to reconsider our educational direction.”
Strong words and thoughts from the president of 90,000 elected school board members. Going forward, research and best practice models should drive decisions about public education. NCLB was a good thing, because it placed school accountability at the top of public education’s agenda. Yet the U.S. dropout rate for high schools continues to grow and the national achievement gap does not shrink.
We cannot forget our schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. President Obama, let’s double down on a quality early education for all 3 and 4 year olds. In Santa Clara County we only have enough federal money to enroll 50 percent of the children whose families qualify for Head Start, and only 1 percent of those that qualify for early Head Start.