Monday, July 25, 2011

ESEA Reauthorization Part II: Are we going to get anywhere?

In previous entries and a couple of times in my newsletter, I have referenced my role as state coordinator for Iowa with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Basically that means that I represent Iowa in our national organization. My primary job with this position is to advocate for education and the principal profession with legislators at the federal level. There are other responsibilities, but that is the biggest one. In June, I spent three days in Washington D.C., as I have for three of the past four summers, with other coordinators with the primary purpose of meeting with our elected congressmen and senators from Iowa. At one of our trainings, the number one issue all of us were briefed on to discuss with the politicians was the reauthorization of ESEA. With all of the focus on the budget and debt ceiling, little attention appears to be paid to other legislation. Education only makes up 2% of the federal budget, so it is of no surprise that it ranks a little lower on the priority list. It will be interesting once the budget is settled, how things will shake out.
With that being said, the law says that reauthorization must take place. As an educator, we need direction. Of course, if nothing happens, then the original tenants of NCLB stay in place, even though politicians and educators do agree that there are changes that must be made. Under the current legislation, experts estimate that over 82% of all schools will not meet the performance levels of NCLB, meaning that they are non-proficient and will become a School In Need of Assistance. I understand that there are some failing schools, many of which have become dropout factories and no one would want their child to have to attend one of them. However, I find it ludicrous to believe that 82% of our nation’s public schools are failing! That is ridiculous, yet under the standards set by NCLB, that will most likely happen. If it does, then what? The federal government is not allocating more money to “fix” our schools, so what will we do? Of course 82% of our school are not failing. We have heard all of the negative statements from the anti-public school folks pointing out how we are failing our children, yet we are teaching our students more than any previous generation, and believe it our not, our students are learning more! Contrary to what the alarmists want us to believe, American schools are doing a good job providing quality education to students. The problem is, the world is changing so fast that it is ridiculously hard to try and move forward fast enough!
Another recent development in the response to NCLB is the fact that in some isolated instances school leaders have resorted to cheating to produce test scores that meet the mandates. Examples have been recently uncovered in Georgia where many people are now losing their jobs due to fraud associated with test scores. And, there are investigations into the same type of thing in Pennsylvania. The problem with this is that from the outset, NCLB has been punitive by nature. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has noted this leading up to the Education Summit being held in Des Moines and goes so far to say that it stands in the way of positive social change. But is all of this rhetoric? People have been talking about it for years, but it has been four years since reauthorization was to take place and nothing has changed!
The reality is that one way or another, public schools are going to have to meet the demands of the law, whatever that may be. Some states are starting to opt out and change their criteria for proficiency. Others, like Iowa, seem to be at somewhat of a standstill. What I do know is that unless changes are made, very few schools, if any, will see 100% of its students achieve proficiency in math and reading. I also know that many schools, including North Fayette, have made significant strides and have shown growth toward meeting those goals. NCLB has forced us to look closely at how students learn and how we teach. Now, we need a clear direction to chart our course for the future.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ESEA Reauthorization Part I: What is this all about?

You all have heard about No Child Left Behind, so you will know what I am talking about in the next few paragraphs. Commonly referred to as NCLB, or “nickel-b,” among educators, it is actually the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was signed into law in January of 2002 by then President George W. Bush. A lot of controversy has accompanied this law and its implementation, but in reality, it has served a purpose that has moved education ahead in our country, drawing attention to some shortcomings and forcing educators to make changes in the best interests of our students. One of the interesting things about this law is that it was supposed to be reauthorized, or “re-upped,” four or five years ago, and yet here we sit waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

In reality, when President Bush signed the Bill in 2002, that was a reauthorization of a previous ESEA bill. What happens is once some bills are passed, there is a certain period of time built in that requires Congress to look at is, determine if it is working, make changes if deemed necessary, and then reauthorize it. As NCLB was unfolded a little over nine year ago, there was quite a bit of criticism from some sectors, yet people rolled up their sleeves and began working toward meeting the goals that were established. Like a lot of new laws, as people start working with them, strengths and weaknesses emerge, and one of the things that stood out very early on with NCLB was the goal that 100% of our nation’s children would be proficient and on grade level in reading and math by 2014. Anyone, and I mean anyone that knows anything about education, child development, and statistics can tell you that was a pipedream. There is no way that is going to happen. Would that be great and should we challenge every student to reach his or her potential? Heck yes! But there is a difference between dreams and reality.

As a lot of education reforms have been put in place, there are parts of this country where significant gains have been made in regard to improving reading and math, and about three or four years into NCLB, you heard educators and politicians start talking about growth models. You see another part of NCLB that caught a lot of criticism was the punitive nature of the law directed at schools, teachers, and administrators when the students do not meet trajectories or targets on the way to 100% proficiency in 2014. There have been some great stories of schools that have turned around, and even here, we have seen growth among some of our students. Yet according to the law, it isn’t good enough unless you are at a certain level.

What has evolved over the past four or five years is a more realistic perspective on NCLB, with educators and politicians from both sides of the aisle in agreement on a number of things that need to be changed, yet our leaders in Washington, DC have not been able to get it done. Growth models rather than 100% proficiency is almost universally agreed upon, yet the law has not been changed and 2014 is staring us right in the face. Outstanding literacy programs have been put in place, yet funding to continue them has for the most part run out. States like Iowa have undergone, or have initiated significant changes in their educational programs, with most of them raising expectations and implementing a common core of standards. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have initiated some new programs designed to move our country back to the top in regard to the education our children receive. But, without the reauthorization, the old goals are still there and public education faces a potentially cataclysmic situation in 2014. Why are we at this point? I’ll address that in my next entry!