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November 16, 2010 3 min read


What I Learned in New Orleans

Dear Deborah,

No nation in the world, at least none that we wish to emulate, is engaged in doing what our “leaders” are doing. I can’t say where all this is going, but it doesn’t look promising for those who care about our nation’s children and the quality of education that we provide them.

I have been traveling constantly this fall, speaking to teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, and researchers. Wherever I go, I try to learn something new and not just hear myself talk.

In New Orleans, I spoke at Dillard University. There, I heard from angry African-American parents and educators who felt disenfranchised by the charterizing of their public schools. The mainstream media may think that the chartering of New Orleans was a wonderful thing, but the audience that night did not.

Several people that night said: “They stole our public schools, and they stole our democracy while we were out of town.”

Also in New Orleans, I spoke at the Grantmakers in Education conference, where I shared a panel with John Jackson, the president and chief executive officer of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

My favorite line from that day occurred when Jackson said he had recently visited some very high-performing nations. At each stop, he asked authorities: “What do you do about bad teachers?” They consistently replied: “We help them.” He then asked: “What do you do when they don’t improve?” They answered, without hesitating: “We help them more.”
—Diane Ravitch


Making Sense of the Midterms: An NCLB Patch?

I’m betting that there won’t be an ESEA/NCLB reauthorization in the next two years.

I do expect, though, that before the 2012 elections, the new Congress will pass some kind of “NCLB patch,” which suspends the ludicrous consequences of a law that will soon label most of the nation’s schools as failing to make “adequate yearly progress.” No need to rehash here the self-defeating problems with this well-intentioned effort to legislate aspirations.

I’m not expecting a “stripped-down” bill but something like the annual “doc fix” we see Congress pass to halt mandated cuts in Medicare payment rates to doctors. Congress is bad at addressing big problems through complex legislation, but it excels at stop gaps that ease the pain.

Congress hardly blinks an eye at these costly patches, as it routinely passes them. Pushing through a cost-free bill that halts the clumsy labeling of a reviled NCLB should be easy pickings by comparison.

I’m betting that a bipartisan measure which renders NCLB toothless—either by making its remedy provisions voluntary or otherwise declawing AYP—will pass sometime in 2012.
—Rick Hess


What the Election Means for Teacher Policy

I’ve heard from a number of folks that there’s room for bipartisan work in Congress on teacher- effectiveness policies and support for performance pay. That is probably true in a theoretical sense, but there are practical issues that could definitely get in the way.

Almost all federally supported performance pay is currently funded through discretionary grants like the Teacher Incentive Fund. Backing performance pay would mean ponying up to the table with more dollars. But the Republican “Pledge to America” seeks to basically reduce discretionary spending.

An alternative to adding cash is to try to repurpose existing sources of funds, like the slushy $3 billion in teacher-quality funding the Education Department sends to states every year through Title II of the NCLB law. This fund is probably pretty safe, despite all the rhetoric of fiscal austerity, because every state and most districts get a cut of it. Clawing it away is, therefore, a no-win proposition for members of Congress. But refashioning the money into a more-prescriptive program isn’t going to be an easy task, either.

Overall, the biggest obstacle on the table for pushing education policy along is this: The center coalition that put together the NCLB act in the first place has been decimated, and it’s unclear what will fill in the vacuum. The abolish-the-Department-of-Education Republicans and the abolish-NCLB Democrats are likely to be brought into line by their respective party leaders, but that’s still a long way away from coming up with a bill that can actually move in the current policy climate.
—Stephen Sawchuk

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week