Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Response to Washington Post: “Obama Revise NCLB Law”

By on March 16, 2010

This past weekend, as many of you know, President Obama’s new, revised-NCLB plan was released in both the New York Times and the Washington Post. My parents called after finishing up their Sunday morning ritual of newspaper-n-coffee to downshift about some of the issues about which they had been reading. They’ve recently become my barometer for what many well-read civilians still may or may not understand about the complexities about our current educational conundrum, so when they asked me some questions about some of the common themes that they were hearing out there in mainstream-educational-media-land I threw the following chart together consisting of quotes from the Washington Post article and my feelings about them.

What I’m Hopeful About What I Read

“scores in other subjects could also be used to measure progress” – While students will be tested in math and reading, other subjects scores can still count, so that the accomplishments in the other core classes still have some testing value.

would place more importance on academic growth then the current pass-fail approach to judging schools.”– AWESOME! GREAT TO HEAR! FINALLY!

“$29 billion in aid for schools, a 16% increase” – Money to schools is always good. Save for the fact that we need more, this is good to see.

Common National Standards – I support the use of standards and feel national standards are long overdue. I’ve taught in schools that didn’t use standards (both public and private alike) and I fear that it becomes a place of what’s important to the teacher to teach. Standards are meant to be a foundation of common, universal topics that all students must know. In theory, a good thing.

What Still Bums Me Out
“All students by 2020 are on a path towards “college and career readiness”– How is this a more reasonable expectation than the NCLB expectation of all students at grade level math and reading by 2014? Especially with cutting vocational ed and ed technology it’s like they’re talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Like NCLB, is this a mandate generated for publicity? Like the title NCLB (who wants to leave a kid behind?) “college and career” bound also has a nice PR ring to it, don’t you think?

“most of the money would be delivered through competitive grants” – Is competing for funds that are meant to provide equitable educational opportunities even constitutional? We aren’t a business. A competition means that there are losers. And the losers here are kids.

“common academic standards…would affect textbooks, curriculum, and teacher training across the country.” = Wasn’t the committee that created these common standards made up of representatives of the textbook and testing companies and not by teachers? And if we’re to prepare our students for college and careers in 2020, then why do these national standards still reflect the standards of 50 years ago? Where are the skills that students will need for their future?

“more sophisticated tests” – …means just one thing: more tests

“replace staff, independently manage, replace principal…” – No mention of accountability of family support or funding’s role in a school’s success. Nobody else is being held accountable to student success save for the schools and their teachers.

“expressed support for a decision to fire the staff of a struggling high school” – Still seeing teacher firing as a silver bullet for school success. But the school belongs to the community and is theirs to own as a success or a failure. The talk is all about the goals, but where’s the promise of support to reach those goals?

“preserving school choice…will be a rally cry and unifier for Republicans.” – But until schools are supported, this will segregate education between those with advocates and those without. We cannot offer choice if we are leaving some students behind in schools nobody would choose.

It’s like Obama and Duncan want to use strong talk and strong language, as if it was what was missing all along. But illiteracy, child abuse, child neglect, homelessness…these resonate far more with educators than some seemingly heavy threats from those so far removed from the trenches.

I mean, I kinda feel bad for Obama. He’s inherited a knot of gargantuan proportions. But rather than tease it apart, strand by strand, until the knot is out, he is standing at the pulpit yelling, “We have a knot! To get this knot out we have to unknot it! We must make the string accountable!”

But this concept of assessing based on growth is promising, and because of this I do sense that they are starting to listen to teachers. But until they resist the pull to grandstand with their language and their threats, education will not truly be reformed.

Nevertheless, I watch. I listen. And I hope.

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  1. Karen Gawron
    March 18, 2010

    Having national standards does sound good, in theory. Then teachers across the country could have some commonality and shared goals.
    But have you ever seen teachers and educators sit down and try to develop national standards? It’s a very political battle. They look at existing state standards and try to negotiate what to include and what to leave out.
    Are the national standards going to be developmentally appropriate? Or does the most academically rigorous, automatically mean the best?
    I’m glad to see the pass/fail option of judging schools is on it’s way out. Every year we make growth, but we’ve been constantly trying to catch this moving target year after year. It’s like being on a bad diet. Yes, we’re losing weight, but just not enough!

  2. tweenteacher
    March 19, 2010

    I love the diet simile. Awesome! Have you read the draft of the standards yet?


    I mean, there’s been such debate and money spent even working on them when they feel (at least in CA’s case anyway) so dumbed down compared to our state standards!

    I’ve worked in schools that did not use the standards and the classrooms vary in quality to such a degree that it even make one think that it’s the teacher agenda that is compelling the curriculum, so I believe standards should be a foundation from which to build on. The real problem is that they’ve become the ceiling, the goal.

    And, as I state above, while the theory of standards is important, they seem to neglect many predicted skills that will prepare our students for their futures. So to beholden to that which is antiquated is frustrating.

    Thanks for your comment!

    -Heather WG
    aka Tweenteacher

  3. David Cohen
    March 20, 2010

    Thanks for posting a thoughtful and balanced view of the proposals. We are certainly going through interesting and challenging times in education, and you are contributing to the quality of the discourse about the issues.

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