Today, The Washington Post finally opines on the NAEP Long-Term Data released almost two weeks ago. The official stance of DC’s paper of record should come as surprise to few. In fact, WaPo seems to be channeling dear ol’ Eduflack on this, agreeing with my general points from a week ago that the NAEP improvements are significant (particularly with regard to students in the elementary grades), our high school performance is still a national embarrassment, and the persistent achievement gap is something that we all should be concerned with.
And like Eduflack, WaPo used the data to demonstrate that the past seven years of No Child Left Behind have been effective in their core purpose — to improve reading and math performance in elementary school. In fact, the gains across the board — for white, African-American, and Hispanic students, show that we are on to something when it comes to effective practice that generates real results.
What caught my attention was the close of the editorial, best summarized by the piece’s subhead, “This is no time for retreat on No Child Left Behind.” Couldn’t agree more. Recent years has demonstrated what works in elementary instruction, at least for reading and math. It works for all disaggregated groups. Seems to me we’ve figured out what to teach. Now we need to redouble or retriple our efforts to deliver it to the students most in need, train teachers in its effective delivery, and better collect data so we continue to monitor and improve.
And, of course, Eduflack is thrilled with WaPo calling for the adoption of national standards.
No, what surprises me is the notion that we, as a nation, are looking to retreat on NCLB. Nothing coming out of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Education, or even Capitol Hill has signaled any serious attempt to turn back NCLB. Yes, we talk about increasing available funding, better focusing on teachers and instruction, and taking a closer look at how we measure success. But every action and every word to date screams “stay the course.” No one seems to be dismantling NCLB, particularly with the Administration’s continued focus on both student achievement and innovation.
This continued worry about taking a chainsaw to the tent poles of NCLB seems to boil down to a few key issues. Will we remain as focused on student achievement? Will we continue to place such emphasis on accountability? And what is the future of instruction and training proven most effective over the past decade?
Again, ED is talking the talk with regard to achievement and accountability. Even previous discussions about multiple measures for student achievement seem to be a thing of the past. EdSec Duncan’s rhetoric is screaming achievement and accountability. And we’re all waiting to see if the economic stimulus bill and the new budget put some real teeth behind this new rhetoric.
So why the continued worry about the future of NCLB? There is room for improvement with regard to the current federal law. We do little to focus on the needs of secondary instruction, as evidenced by the NAEP scores. HQT provisions do little to ensure our classrooms — particularly those in hard-to-staff areas — are served by effective teachers with the content knowledge and pedagogy necessary to lead real improvement in those schools that need it most. And we’ll set aside for another day how one can both focus on student achievement for all, while doing something about our dastardly achievement gap.
If we turn our attention to just those issues, then yes, NCLB will change … for the better. (And I mean more than just a new name and tagline.) NCLB has taught us a lot over the past seven years, and we should be using that to build a stronger Elementary and Secondary Education Act. No, we shouldn’t tear down and build new every time the opportunity presents itself. That’s just stupid. We’ve taken major steps forward with NCLB. We need to continue that forward progress, and we need to build on the lessons it has taught us. We need to fix what we got wrong. And we need to up the investment in that which is truly effective. Seems common sense, even for government work.
At the end of the day, we are suffering from an information gap. ED is not talking NCLB because it is an unpopular brand. We know the law has been up for reauthorization for two years now, with many worried that a new Administration would undo all the previous did. But we need to move beyond the book cover and take a look at the pages inside. The Administration’s book seems to be one of NCLB continuation and improvement. ED and Duncan seem to be preparing to write NCLB, Volume 2.
We should not be looking to retreat on a national commitment to ensure that every child is proficient in reading, math, and science by the middle grades. We should not be looking to retreat on our commitment to qualified and effective teachers. We should not be looking to retreat on our attention to achievement and accountability. And we certainly should not be looking to retreat on our pledge to provide an effective, high-quality education to all students, regardless of race, income, or zip code. If it take WaPo and others to remind us of that from time to time, all the better.