To the Editor:
I was very pleased to read that a central question in the debate over renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act has become how to amend the law to aid failing schools (“Turnarounds Central Issue Under NCLB,” June 20, 2007). That is a key question that an alliance of national education, civil rights, disability, religious, civic, and labor organizations has been addressing over the last three years.
The law’s current accountability scheme, based on making “adequate yearly progress” or facing escalating sanctions, is not well suited to fixing failing schools, for several reasons. First, it focuses on penalizing schools for failure rather than helping them succeed, thereby inducing many to narrow their curricula, teach to low-level tests, and otherwise manipulate their proficiency standards and test scores to avoid sanctions, instead of concentrating on dramatically improving teaching. Second, it disregards remedying basic problems common to Title I schools generally, in favor of addressing defects peculiar to individual schools.
Third, it fails to explain to states and localities what concrete policies they should adopt to strengthen the capacity of teachers, administrators, and parents, and then hold them accountable for implementing these changes. And fourth, it fails to provide for the greatly beefed-up technical assistance and funding necessary, especially at the state level, to help low-performing schools turn themselves around.
The Forum on Educational Accountability, a working group of the 136 national organizations that have already signed the “Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind,” has rectified these deficiencies. It has prepared a report and legislative recommendations on providing for a strong and comprehensive accountability system, built on experience and research, to replace the current one. “Redefining Accountability: Improving Student Learning by Building Capacity” and “Proposed ESEA/NCLB Amendments” are available at www.edaccountability.org.
The writer is the executive director of Citizens for Effective Schools, in Bethesda, Md., and the chair of the committee on capacity-building for the Forum on Educational Accountability.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Group Aims to Amend NCLB To Better Aid Failing Schools