To paraphrase the Godfather, just when we thought it was done, he goes and brings it back to life. For the past year or so, just about anybody who is anybody had written off No Child Left Behind. We assumed the law was dead, and we figured that ESEA reauthorization would occur in 2010 at the earliest. But then U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy strikes. According to today’s Politico, Kennedy has added NCLB reauthorization to his wish list (thanks to the FritzWire for spotlighting the news story.)
According to Politico, the senior senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wants to use NCLB reauthorization to focus on three key issues:
* Closing the student-teacher achievement gap
* Encouraging parents to get involved in schools
* Amending the legislation’s one-size-fits-all approach to low-performance schools
This should be welcome news to education reformers and agitators throughout the nation. Instead of pressing for the status quo and looking to roll back the calendars eight or so years, Kennedy is hoping to use his perch as chairman of the Senate HELP Committee to focus on key issues facing our schools. How so?
First, he is directing our attention to the achievement gap, and not merely student achievement. We talk about every child succeeding and every child succeeding. But in state proficiency exam after exam, we see that minority and low-income students are still underperforming the state average. In our push for overall student achievement, we believed a rising tide would raise all boats. Today, we see that there is still much work to be done, particularly to get many students into the boats in the first place. Greater attention to the achievement gap — both for students and for teachers — is a key component to meaningful school improvement.
More importantly, he is placing the spotlight on parents, just as President-elect Obama did during the campaign. If Kennedy can accomplish just this task, he will make a major contribution to school improvement. For too long, we left it to the schools and the teachers to fix the problem. We neglected the fact that parents (or families) are the first and strongest teachers we have. Learning happens at home just as frequently as it does at school. And increased parental involvement in the classroom results in improved student success. Last month, Eduflack called for the establishment of an Office of Family Engagement in the U.S. Department of Education. Hopefully, Kennedy can help move that forward, helping ED systematize how we engage parents, how we empower them in the education process, and how we use them to help improve instructional quality and outcomes in all our schools.
As Kennedy looks at his NCLB priorities for 2009, I would ask him to consider two others as well:
* We need a Reading First 2.0. We need a federal program that continues to invest in proven reading instruction, getting best practices into the hands of teachers and providing our students the reading interventions needed to succeed. Literacy has long been a national education priority. That should not stop, even if RF’s implementation was problematic. Kennedy is just the leader to take the best from our Reading First experience and build a better program that delivers resources, technical assistance, and leadership to the schools that need it most. It is key to closing that achievement gap he is so concerned with.
* We need an economic stimulus package for our schools. Building bridges, erecting buildings, and even constructing schools are important to the future of our country and the current of our economy. But new school buildings alone will not improve public education in the United States. Too many districts, particularly those serving low-income students, are facing grim budget realities. Budget freezes are passé. We’re now moving into major budget cuts for K-12 at the state and local level. The federal government must fill the gaps. If we can step in to save the auto industry, we can also step in to save our schools. That only happens when we dedicate specific resources to fund the books, the technology, and the professional development that now face the budgetary chopping blocks. No superintendent should have to choose between textbooks and lights for his schools. As our school-age population grows larger, and our expectations grow higher, we need to ensure our schools have the fiscal resources to provide ALL students the materials they need to learn, to achieve, and to succeed.
I don’t know about others, but I’m looking forward to an NCLB reauthorizations scuffle in 2009. Movement is always better than inertia. By keeping these issues at the front of the public debate, Kennedy ensures that education improvement efforts continue to move, taking a backseat to no domestic policy issue.