Education Opinion

Friday Guest Column: One Teacher’s Hopes for NCLB II

July 18, 2008 4 min read
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John Thompson is a Teacher in Oklahoma Centennial High School, Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The following are my recommendations for NCLB II. I would like to pay special attention to the way that these sorts of proposals could benefit the education providers industry.

1. Abandon the effort to devise a single, overarching, national accountability system. Instead, create accountability systems for each individual reform effort.

2. Remove sanctions from AYP. Testing data should be used for a ranking system, or a “consumer reports” system or for some other way of using the disinfectant of the light of day to hold systems accountable. In return, states must close loopholes and increase the disaggregation of data, for instance, by disaggregating the dropout and the graduation rates.

According the laws of supply and demand, NCLB should increase demand for primitive standardized testing and test prep. Worst, it places a premium on fact-driven repetitive, even rote assessments, testing, and tutorials that states demand when they take the low road towards compliance. In return for removing sanctions, the federal government should demand a higher level of testing. States could develop assessments that serve multiple purposes, assessing higher order skills, providing timely diagnostic data, and even implementing adaptive assessments. The most dynamic participants in the school improvement industry should love the opportunity to stop recycling digital versions of 19th century assessments and use the full power of 21st century technology to produce user-friendly products that respect the whole of human learning.

3. Invest heavily in early childhood education, using state-of-the-art accountability.

While I oppose vouchers for K - 12, vouchers could provide a bipartisan method of providing high-quality child care for all. Affluent parents have a glorious range of choices when providing early stimulus while their children’s minds and talents are so plastic. Liberals like me could be thrilled by an tool to combat the ghettoization of child care where the youngsters who get the least stimulation at home are most likely to get more of the same during day care.

4. Expand/amend SES provisions to include summer school. It has been estimated that up to 2/3rds of the Achievement Gap can be explained by the summer’s loss of learning. Create incentives for high quality field trips, camping excursions, and holistic endeavors to provide the eye-opening experiences that affluent children receive during summer vacations.

Schools can compete well with other service providers when it comes to chaining poor kids to their desks for a summer of worksheets. It would take the private and the nonprofit sectors to design and create wide-ranging learning adventures.

5. Invest in a “Marshall Plan” for recruiting and training principals and teachers. Build on sophisticated assessment systems developed by National Board or the College Board.

The task of training or assessing educator development programs should be an entrepreneur’s dream. Take the Teach For America model one step forward and challenge the military, the national parks, museums, public television and radio, and NASA to contribute their experience in public education to a national quest to energize teaching. Any institution that has shown an ability to communicate with the public would be welcome.

6. Provide incentives to end “drive through evaluations,” and at least remove the10% of teachers and administrators who are most ineffective. Hopefully, individual districts would then continue to ratchet up standards as President Obama motivates from the bully pulpit. Accountability systems like the AFT’s Toledo Plan or Milkens’s TAP could be the model.

7. Continue to make rifle-shot investments in data systems and turnaround pilots, using the appropriate accountability system.

Again, according to the law of supply and demand, recommendations #5 and #6 would shift incentives from the least common denominator approach to sophisticated instruments using multiple measures. For illustration, just consider the outstanding assessments for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate that are irrelevant under NCLB.

Profits can be made through an NCLB II that does a better job in the “cat and mouse” game of designing mandates, defeating states in the race to design better loopholes. Or we could learn from our mistakes and focus on the needs of children. The more time and money that we invest in trying to trick each other, the fewer resources are available for experimentation and the creative design of educational programs. The school improvement industries should be able to profit from either approach. But the industry should consider this question. Which would be more profitable, a series of failed attempts to explore space where we just rebuild the previous doomed explorer? Or do we want the accomplishment, and the profits, of going where man has never gone before?

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