Rediscovering NCLB

Finally, President Bush has rediscovered NCLB.  I’ve long said NCLB could be a key part of Bush’s domestic policy legacy — but for that to happen, advocates of the law need to talk about the impact NCLB is having on communities across the nation, and how students will gain the tools they need to compete in the global workplace as a result.

WTOP has the story —  What does it all mean?  Yesterday’s actions hold hope that the President has learned three key communications lessons:

* Power of third parties — Yesterday’s event demonstrates the impact third-party voices can have on the process.  It is one thing for the government to tell us their law is working.  It is something entirely different for leaders in the business, education, and civil rights communities to extoll the virtues of education reform.  If parents and teachers are to believe NCLB is working, they need to hear from folks like Philadelphia Schools CEO Paul Vallas and the CEO of Prudential Financial.  They need to hear from those actually implementing the laws … or those reaping the benefits.

* Frame the discussion — For years, critics have attacked NCLB for its unreasonable levels of accountability and for the fear-inducing battle cry that the law simply leads to “teaching to the test.”  Such attacks have put NCLB supporters on the defensive, somehow apologizing for setting high expectations and expecting schools to meet those expectations.  Yesterday, the President clearly articulated the need for accountability, the impact of accountability, and the value of accountability.  By reframing the discussion, he now forces critics to explain why we shouldn’t hold our schools accountable for effectively teaching our students.  Success isn’t an accident.  It is the result of measurable change, demonstrable improvement, and being held accountable for both.

* Respect your stakeholders — It was an interesting panel of voices supporting the president.  The business community.  In-the-field educators and administrators.  Parent advocates.  School choice supporters.  What does this say?  Clearly, the President may now realize truly implementing NCLB requires a big tent.  It is not enough to decree change from Washington.  We have to engage those audiences who need to act, helping 1) raise their awareness on the need for reform, 2) show what actions they need to take to enact reform, and 3) demonstrate the impact reform will have on them and their constituencies.

At the end of the day, strengthening NCLB will be all about relevance.  How will greater accountability or national standards benefit local communities, educators, or families?  How does NCLB (and its reauthorization) impact me directly?  By raising the bar, will my kids raise their achievement?  Will they raise their access to opportunity?  Will they raise their ability to compete and succeed, both in school and in life?  

President Bush took a strong step forward with this new approach to discussing NCLB.  Let’s hope he follows through.  Effectively using third parties, reframing the debate, and including stakeholders are key components to communicating the need and impact of NCLB.  But such usage must become a way of life, not a one-time, one-day attempt to get back into the game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s