Putting Our Money on Achievement

For years, discussions about the successes and failures of NCLB have focused on what is happening behind the schoolhouse doors during school hours.  This is the way it should be.  The goal of true education reform is to improve the quality of instruction, measured by improved student achievement for all.  Simple.  To the point.  Reform = improvement.

But what about those kids who are still left behind, those in failing schools that, for one reason or another, have been unable to improve their instruction and their student achievement?  For those students, we have supplemental education services.

USA Today has a good he said-she said on the issue (assuming the he is Richard Whitmire and knowing the she is Margaret Spellings).  http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/06/our_view_on_no_.html#more

Eduflack often preaches the virtues of finding areas of common ground.  It is the easiest way to build support for an issue and to mitigate the power of the dedicated opposition.  Articulate the points where you agree, and the attacks against you seem more like paper cuts than death blows.

We agree that a half-million students are taking advantage of NCLB’s tutoring provisions.  We agree that five times that many students are eligible.  And we agree that such services are necessary to ensure that all students — regardless of AYP status of their neighborhood schools — have access to the learning tools necessary to achieve.

Where do we go from this island of agreement?  USA Today offers two key requirements for moving forward.  We need to hold tutoring programs accountable and we need to make sure they are proven effective.  And that’s where the nation’s newspaper wins the rhetorical day.

For the past six years, we have caged NCLB discussions around two key tenets — accountability and research base.  Adopt programs that work.  Show they work.  Measure they effectiveness.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Anyone in the NCLB trenches knows that accountability and proven effective are the keys to success.  And it has been  promoted — rightfully so — in virtually every speech, brochure, website, and piece of paper to come out of ED since 2002.

USA Today reminds us of that, keeping it simple and to the point.  NCLB’s SES program works, but there are too many ineffective programs, too many fly-by-night operators that are trying to take advantage of the NCLB trough.  Just as we expect classroom curriculum to proven to work and assessed, so too should we expect it of federally funded after-school providers.  And those are basic principles — and core messaging — that Spellings and all at ED have and should embrace. 

Unfortunately, Spellings missed a golden opportunity to promote those foundations of NCLB and remind us all of the lasting positive impact of the law.  Instead, she couldn’t let go of the premise that many of our tutoring dollars are currently spent on programs that just don’t work.  She couldn’t ignore the criticism and stay on message.  USA Today served up an easy pitch, and simply fouled it off.    

USA Today’s point was crystal clear — “If a program can’t be proven effective, it should lose the money.”  Eduflack can’t say it any better.  Doesn’t matter if it is tutoring, reading instruction, teacher training, high school improvement, or any of a myriad of education reforms out there.  Success is king.  Prove it works, and you have an effective message.

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