Advocacy from the Urban Superintendent

The common thinking is that the urban superintendent is the last line of defense for the status quo.  AASA has stood hard and long against the reforms in NCLB.  Urban superintendents, it seems, are leading the charge against classroom measurement and AYP and other such improvements to education delivery and measurement.

We forget, though, that the educational leaders in our urban centers are also the early adopters of reforms like Teach for America and KIPP and New Leaders for New Schools.  And we ignore that these superintendents are the ones with the highest stakes, and the ones most willing to try new reforms if they can deliver maximum impact.

And then we get slapped upside the head with a call for national standards.

For those who missed it, Eduflack is referring to an analysis in today’s Washington Post, written by Jay Matthews.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/30/AR2007093001503.html  Based on interviews and public statements of Washington, DC-areas superintendents, Matthews paints a clear picture of a cadre of superintendents focused on reforms, improvements, and the bottom line.

It’s no secret that these leaders have voiced a real frustration with NCLB and many of its requirements.  And these frustrations have been translated — by many, including Eduflack — as opposition to the law.  But a closer look of the rhetoric paints a very different picture.

Just look at Fairfax County (VA) Superintendent Jack Dale.  Past statements maligning NCLB testing requirements have been interpreted as opposition to testing itself.  Yes, Dale has real issues with a series of state tests that don’t relate or integrate with one another, yet are governed by a single federal enforcement filter.  His solution — let the feds develop the tests, and empower the states (and LEAs, I suppose) to enact the specific interventions necessary to turn our low-performing schools around and offer virtually every kid the keys to success.

And Dale isn’t alone.  He seems to be joined in the call for national standards by the supes from Montgomery County, MD; Arlington County, VA; and others.

There’s no question that the voice of the superintendent has been almost non-existent when it comes to NCLB 2.0.  Again, we assume a defense for the status quo and opposition to reforms or attempts to build a better mousetrap.  We may assume, but we also need to verify. 

Failed reforms are littered with the remains of assumptions and generalizations.  If we’re looking to improve our struggling schools, we need to include the very superintendents who manage those schools.  They know the problems.  They know the reforms that have been tried and failed (or succeeded).  And they know that, just sometimes, we need a little bold thinking that no one is expecting. 

Now if only Dale and company can rally their fellow superintendents (and the organization that is supposed to represent their interests) to stand behind national standards, we may just have a reform that could make a lasting difference in every LEA and SEA across the nation.


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