Where Darling-Hammond Stands on NCLB

November 20, 2008 2 min read
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Yesterday, I wondered how major players in NCLB’s future would answer the following question: “What will the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act look like?”

Today, I give you two links that outline the ideas of Linda Darling-Hammond—the Stanford University professor whom President-elect Barack Obama has tapped to lead the review of federal education policy. Darling-Hammond also has been mentioned as a potential education secretary and appears to be the choice one member of a NEA affiliate’s staff*, according to Chad Aldeman.

So, what does Darling-Hammond think about NCLB? Although she’s been circumspect in recent public appearances (see my reporting on a speech she gave Tuesday), she was giving her opinion on the law in 2007, both in The Nation and in testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee.

In The Nation, Darling-Hammond briefly praised NCLB. She said it made “major breakthroughs” by focusing on minority students’ achievement and highly qualified teachers. But she went on to make a litany of complaints against it. Here are two quotes:

NCLB seeks to improve the schools poor students attend through threats and sanctions rather than the serious investments in education and welfare such an effort truly requires." "Even if NCLB funding were to increase, its framework does not allow for important structural changes—for example, a system of teacher preparation and professional development that would routinely produce high-quality teaching; curriculum and assessments that encourage critical thinking and performance skills; high-quality preschool education, libraries and learning materials; and health care for poor children. Instead, the law wastes scarce resources on a complicated test score game that appears to be narrowing the curriculum, uprooting successful programs and pushing low-achieving students out of many schools."

She also says the law has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, discourages “instructionally useful” tests, and distracts schools from “productive reforms.”

In her congressional testimony, Darling-Hammond told the Education and Labor Committee that she supported three specific changes to the law that had been proposed in a discussion draft released by the panel’s leaders:

1.) Allow for multiple measures to determine schools’ success: “The proposals in the reauthorization draft to permit states to use a broader set of assessments and to encourage the development and use of performance assessments are critical to creating a globally competitive curriculum in U.S. schools.”

2.) Improve teacher quality: “Unfortunately, unlike other industrialized nations that are high-achieving, the United States lacks a systematic approach to recruiting, preparing, and retaining teachers, or for using the skills of accomplished teachers to help improve schools.”

3.) Measure growth of students: The law should have “the means for measuring school progress from year to year, which I believe need to become more publicly comprehensible and more closely focused on evaluating continuing progress for students and schools.”

These are just the highlights. If you’re interested in the details, I’d encourage you to read both documents all the way through.

* UPDATE: I’ve changed this sentence to say “one member of a NEA affiliate’s staff.” The NEA itself is not endorsing any candidate to be education secretary, according to Miguel Gonzalez, a spokesman for the union.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.

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