A Teacher's Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind

Uploaded by usedgov on 24.05.2011

A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind
No doubt about it, teaching is one of the most rewarding and important professions in
the country. Teachers make a huge impact on children’s lives, the choices they will
make, and their future success. Though great teachers work hard to help their
students succeed, the US educational system is failing many of our children, families,
and communities today. Every 26 seconds a kid drops out of school,
and one quarter never graduate from high school. Many who stay in school find themselves unprepared
to survive in college and careers. And huge achievement gaps exist among low-income
and minority students, students with disabilities, and English learners.
In 2002, Congress attempted to deal with these problems by reauthorizing the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act (or ESEA), which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act, NCLB.
NCLB has been successful helping states to begin collecting and reporting data about
student achievement and to focus on making improvements to long-neglected student groups.
However, NCLB also brought with it a host of unintended consequences. It is a law with
all sticks and no carrots. Under NCLB, teachers have been unfairly blamed for failing schools.
And it provided incentives for schools to focus efforts on teaching to poorly-designed
bubble tests. Under this broken accountability system, some
perfectly good schools can be misidentified as "failing" because they don’t meet their
education goals, identified as Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Soon, the large majority of our schools may be labeled as failing.
To fix the problems created by NCLB, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan have proposed a new plan to reform what is not working…
But what hasn’t worked is denying teachers, schools and states what they need to meet
these goals. That’s why we need to fix No Child Left Behind. We need to make sure we’re
graduating students who are ready for college and ready for careers. We need to put outstanding
teachers in every classroom and give those teachers the pay and the support that they
deserve. President Obama’s plan calls upon everyone—
states, school districts, schools, teachers, parents, students, communities, and the federal
government—to share in the responsibility of preparing our students and our country
for a prosperous future. The plan supports the efforts of the states
to create an internationally-benchmarked Common Core of college- and career-ready standards
so that when high school graduates enter college, they won’t need remedial courses.
The President’s Blueprint for Reform gives schools and states needed flexibility to achieve
these goals in ways that fit their needs. The plan also broadens the curriculum, rewards
student growth, strengthens and supports teachers, and provides support for state and district
reforms. The President’s Education Reform Plan
Teachers have long known that, despite their efforts, educational achievement in this country
has been slipping, and that the gap between those who do and do not succeed in school
continues to widen. For decades we have been lying to students,
dumbing down standards and telling them that they are ready for college and careers when
colleges report that many of the students who enroll lack the skills to be successful.
Due to fears that schools would not make AYP, some states actually lowered their standards
for achievement under NCLB. At a time when global competition for jobs
is increasing, the U.S. ranking for achievement in reading, mathematics, and science has fallen,
leaving students unprepared to be critical thinkers and problem solvers in a global world.
The first goal of the president’s plan is to raise educational standards so that all
students are ready for college and careers. The President’s plan calls for all of us—teachers,
parents, communities, schools, districts, states, the federal government and students—
to raise our expectations and truly prepare students for college and careers.
At the same time, it calls for states to create transparent systems for measuring and reporting
student growth, so that parents, students, and teachers know who is on track.
That is the second goal: Measure and Report Results.
In order to measure achievement, however, states will need more rigorous assessment
systems. The plan does not call for more tests, but for better ones that test critical thinking,
and go beyond current bubble tests. That’s Goal 3 Better Assessments
Goal Four calls for the government to loosen federal regulations that burden teachers and
limit their freedom to use their knowledge in their classrooms.
Rather than requiring the same interventions in all schools that don’t make AYP, only
the lowest-performing schools will implement aggressive turnaround plans. And schools that
are in danger of falling into the bottom or have huge achievement gaps will implement
locally chosen interventions to improve performance and close the gap. And all schools will be
given support to help them improve. This will give teachers and leaders in most of the schools
the freedom to make decisions that are in their students’ best interests.
Currently, because of fears about not making AYP, NCLB has created a national obsession
around testing, almost forcing a testing culture in schools. This testing focus has limited
teachers’ professional freedom to provide the enriching and creative instruction they
want to offer. The President’s plan, however, calls for
us to recognize and reward schools that are stimulating student growth, and it gives these
schools even greater flexibility spending their federal dollars so that they don’t
have to focus exclusively on testing. That’s Goal 5: Recognize and Reward Success
Goal Six of the President’s plan is to offer students a well-rounded curriculum, one that
includes all of the subjects that improve students’ lives--subjects like social studies,
science, the arts, physical education, foreign language, business, and technology.
But by far, the biggest problem teachers have with NCLB is its focus on one test on one
day, on whether or not students can clear an arbitrary proficiency bar on mediocre bubble
tests. Big picture: one of the big problems I have
with No Child Left Behind was it focused too much on an absolute test score and not enough
on growth and gain and how much a student is improving. If Paul is a fifth grade teacher
and I come to him reading at the first-grade level and if I leave his class reading at
the fourth grade level, under No Child Left Behind, he’s a failure. If I improve three
grade levels or two grade levels or a grade level and a half under his instruction, I
think that not only is he not a bad teacher, I think he is a phenomenal teacher, I think
he is an absolute hero. And, so what we want to do much more going forward is look at growth
and gain and how much are students improving. The President’s plan asks us to measure
how much students are improving. That’s Goal 7: Focus on Growth.
Strengthening Teaching One of the most important strategies of the
President’s Blueprint is its focus on one simple but transformative premise: that great
teachers matter. The single most important school-based factor in a child’s learning
is the quality of the teaching in the classroom. A great teacher can change the course of a
student’s life. They light a life-long curiosity, a desire to explore and a hunger for knowledge.
It’s no surprise that studies repeatedly document that the single biggest influence
on student achievement is the quality of the teacher standing in the front of the classroom:
not socioeconomic status, not family background, but the quality of the teacher at the head
of the class. Teaching is an incredibly demanding profession
that draws on a wide set of skills and knowledge. However, instead of being lauded for their
passion, commitment, and intellect, teachers lately have been blamed for problems that
are outside of their control. They have not been evaluated fairly or given
feedback to improve. They have not been given directed professional
development or time to collaborate with colleagues. And they have been underpaid, even when they
take on extra duties and serve in high-need areas.
The President’s plan seeks to treat teachers like the professionals that they are, using
multiple measures to give teachers the feedback they want and need, including observations
of their teaching, portfolios of their work, student and parent feedback, and student growth
data. This feedback must have real uses: directing
effective professional development, identifying and helping teachers who are struggling, providing
avenues for teacher advancement, and acknowledging and rewarding great teaching.
In order for teachers to be able to do their jobs, however, they need principals who give
them support and meaningful feedback. The President’s plan provides funding for states
to develop, evaluate, and reward great principals who create a vision for students’ success
and cultivate cultures and conditions where teachers thrive. The plan also calls for principals
to be evaluated and held accountable for hiring, developing, and supporting teachers.
Funding Education Most of the federal education budget does
not stay in Washington. Almost ninety eight percent of the money spent by the US Department
of Education goes directly into supplementing state and local budgets. Programs like Title
I and IDEA and to student aid and grants to non-profits and institutions of higher education.
So when federal budgets for education are cut, state education budgets suffer.
Even so, almost all of a state’s education budget for running schools and paying teachers’
salaries comes not from Uncle Sam, but from state and local budgets. Only about 9 cents
out of every dollar spent on education comes from the federal government.
To make it easier for schools to fund their work to close opportunity gaps, under the
President’s plan, regular funds will still be allocated by formula for programs such
as Title I, IDEA, and those serving particular disadvantaged populations or regions, such
as English Learners and rural schools. Schools will NOT have to compete for these
formula funds because every state and district receives its share of the funding, based on
the number of students who need them. In addition to regular formula funding, the
President’s plan adds competitive funding to programs that address achievement gaps,
such as Race to the Top, the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, and Investing in Innovation
grants. These additional competitive grants provide
incentives for states and districts to use innovative strategies to raise student achievement.
The grants serve as a catalyst for reform that has spread throughout the nation, including
areas that have not yet received awards. For many programs, the Department of Education
will combine funds into fewer streams to give schools greater flexibility and regulatory
relief about how to spend them. This year President Obama is calling on Congress
to fix what is not working in NCLB. NCLB needs to be overhauled so that it does not continue
to burden schools with rules and regulations, without raising achievement or closing opportunity
gaps. The President’s plan ends many of the problems for teachers created by NCLB.
Instead of lowering the bar, it sets high standards for student learning. Rather than
punishing every school that doesn’t make AYP, the Blueprint focuses on turning around
the lowest-performing schools and rewards the best schools that are making the most
progress. Instead of narrowing the curriculum, it provides students with a rich and well-rounded
education. Instead of blaming teachers, it supports them with good principals, fair evaluations,
and professional development. And it solves many of the testing problems created by NCLB
by supporting states in their work to create better assessment systems that go beyond standard
bubble tests and stress critical thinking. To learn more about the President’s Blueprint
to Fix NCLB, sign up for news updates, find resources, or submit ideas about how best
to revise NCLB, logon to www.ed.gov, or call 1-800-USA-LEARN.