“Legacy”

For years now — well before the lawsuits, the IG investigations, and the delays in reauthorization — Eduflack trumpeted that No Child Left Behind could and should be this Administration’s domestic policy legacy.  Like it or not, NCLB had the opportunity to transform and improve public education in the United States for decades to come.

I can hear the belly laughs already, but think about it.  The largest federal investment in K-12 education in history.  A commitment to improving student achievement.  Unmatched accountability.  Proven-effective, research-based instruction.  Content-based professional development.  Supplemental education and school choice for those in struggling schools.  Every child reading at grade level by fourth grade.  Education that was results based, not process based.  A sea change from the status quo.

The opportunities to cement that legacy have been there.  When Margaret Spellings took over in 2005.  When high school improvement gained attention from ED in 2005 and 2006.  The release of the NCLB Commission report in early 2007, following by genuine congressional interest to reauthorize and strengthen the law.  There was even the moment when Spellings declared the law 99.99% pure.  All were opportunities, and virtually all were squandered.  Opportunities lost, legacies missed.

In today’s USA Today, Greg Toppo quotes our educator in chief — First Lady Laura Bush — as stating that NCLB will indeed be a legacy of her husband’s Administration.  The question today, though, is what type of legacy will it become?  In 2005 or 2006, the opportunity was there to demonstrate the enormous benefit the law — or at least the intent of the law — could have on K-12 education throughout the nation.  Today, that legacy has the strong possibility of being cloaked in negativity, leaving a lasting mark for unfunded mandates, high-stakes testing, and teacher-proof instruction.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Spellings and her team have six months remaining to leave the legacy the law should have, the legacy deserved by the good folks who created NCLB nearly seven years ago.  Even without reauthorization (which none of us expect to see before a new edsec takes the helm at Maryland Ave.), there is one last chance to do it right.

Continued flexibility for the states is a good start.  Marketing recent reading and math gains for the students who needed NCLB the most helps too.  Spotlighting the teachers and schools who have improved under the law reminds us all of what is possible.  Reminding us that NCLB is about more than just elementary school, as evidenced by ED’s American competitiveness work goes a long way, as does promotion of the law’s investment in teachers and their continued training and development.  And who can argue with the value of better data and better understanding of data, allowing our schools to use such information to make better spending, leadership, and instructional decisions. 

Of course, Eduflack would personally like to see a metaphorical charge up San Juan Hill to save Reading First, reminding the world that literacy skills are needed to succeed in school, career, and life, and the only way to gain those skills is to ensure that our classrooms are using only the very best and the very proven instructional approaches.

So what comes next?  Spellings and company have six months.  They lose two of them for the election, and lose a few more weeks in January for transition.  That leaves three months for a legacy campaign.  Hard, yes.  Impossible, not quite.  But the clock is ticking.  The question remains … is anyone at ED watching the clock?

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