NCLB 2.0

What does the future hold for NCLB?  The magic 8 ball is telling far too many people to ask again later, but over the weekend, the NYT offered its analysis on the tough road to reauthorization.  The song being sung is not a new one, but those in the chorus seem to continue to grow.

Here’s the story …

But what does it all tell us?  Can opposition from both the left and right really signal the end to NCLB?  Three simple facts for us all to consider (or remember):

* First, NCLB is simply the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  NCLB is the wrapping and marketing strategy put around the reauthorization in 2002.  NCLB is going nowhere.  ESEA will be reauthorized.  NCLB will fight another day.
* Second, NCLB and local control are not mutually exclusive.  Localities should still control what happens in their schools, but the feds need to hold them accountable.
* Third, and perhaps most significant, the U.S. Department of Education and NCLB supporters are still letting the opposition define the debate.  The NYT does an excellent job pointing out NCLB’s shortcomings and where pockets of resistance are coming from.  What is missing, though, is how those critics would improve the law (other than “give us the money and don’t ask us about it after we cash the check”).

It isn’t a popular position these days, but I am a big supporter of NCLB.  And I believe in the law for a few simple reasons.  It assures an effective education to ALL students, particularly those who can most benefit from proven-effective instruction.  It calls for federal education dollars to be spent on instructional practices that are proven effective, and not on the latest silver bullets.  And it puts students first — forcing us to think about education reform in terms of how it boosts student achievement and prepares all kids for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.

Most importantly, it works.  Take Reading First.  If we look at those districts that have implemented SBRR with fidelity and are effectively measuring its impact, we see it works.  It works with students in urban, suburban, and rural schools.  It works with white, Black, and Latino students.  It just works all around.

So what do NCLB supporters do with all this?  How do we build a better NCLB?  And more importantly, how do we talk about a better NCLB?  If the Department of Education is looking to shore up the status quo, it will fall to other voices — including early advocates like Senator Kennedy and Congressman Miller — to step up and truly advocate for the law.  As is typical for me, I’ve got three key reccs:

* Be bold.  Many critics want to tinker around the edges, rearranging components with the hopes of offending fewer constituents than we are offending today.  Reauthorization should be about improvement.  Meaningful improvement requires bold action and bold words.  Let’s increase NCLB funding to greatly enhance accountability and assessment measures at the state and local level, not weaken accountability.  Let’s strengthen HQT, adding measures of effectiveness, not lessen our expectations of teachers.    

* Be visionary.  Reauthorization allows us to build on the strong foundations of the original NCLB.  How do we make it even stronger?  What areas require enhancement?  Build on Early Reading First and Reading First to extend through adolescence.  Address the unaddressed issues of ELL.  Provide real, tangible, actionable school choice for those who need it, and take revolutionary action to fix those schools too many students are leaving.  Propose something, anything, that will change the world and improve public education for each and every student in the nation.

* Be unapologetic.  NCLB works.  It is proven effective.  Let’s strengthen the law, not weaken it.  Let’s enhance accountability, not provide more loopholes.  Let’s raise hope, not lower expectations.  We should not apologize for expecting much from our teachers, from our schools, and from our students.  We should demand more public education, not less.  Instead of letting critics set the terms of debate, advocates should make clear what NCLB stands for, why it is important, and how we make it even better, both short term and long term.

We can all agree there is room for improvement in NCLB.  If we are to strengthen the law, we need to enhance and expand on the good parts, fix those that are lagging behind, and inspire more parents, teachers, students, and community leaders to do whatever is necessary to wholeheartedly move NCLB’s rhetoric and legislative language into true, effective practice.

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