Some Unanswered Questions About ESEA
This post will be the first in a multi-part, multi-blog reflection on this topic. Be sure to read down to the bottom to see who will pick up the discussion after I leave off.
Today I had the opportunity to listen to a webinar conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, which coordinated with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to invite National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) to participate in a discussion of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind in its most recent incarnation). In preparation for Congressional work on ESEA, the DOE has released its Blueprint For Reform.
Though I have found myself disappointed in Arne Duncan more often than not, I appreciate his longstanding support for NBPTS. The National Board is one of the best hopes we have for building the profession of teaching across the country, and it is fitting that NBCTs and other teaching experts should be consulted about this important legislation.
Judy Wurtzel spoke on behalf of the DOE, and after using up half of the time presenting the administration’s plan, she took some questions about it. Not exactly a discussion – it sounded more like a friendly press conference. News flash: Teachers left on the periphery of policy formation – again.
Sadly, Wurtzel didn’t have time for my questions. (And to be fair, there were hundreds to choose from). Or maybe the folks running the show didn’t like my questions, which would have been the most pointedly critical ones aired. Was I the only one thinking this way, or could it be that they selected the “softballs” for the Q&A portion?
So, here are my questions about the ESEA Blueprint:
1. Wurtzel said that when dealing with persistently low-performing schools, districts should be allowed to “do interventions that they think will work.” Here in California, we’re seeing that if a school is on that list, they have to choose from a limited menu of drastic reform measures in order to receive federal funding. Is that kind of semi-coercive and radical disruption what the administration has in mind when “allowing” districts to use their judgment about solving problems?
2. Wurtzel emphasized that the adminstration’s blueprint supports plans that will build school and community partnerships. That’s a wonderful idea. But in their reactions to recent events in Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, Duncan and Obama have indicated that firing an entire school staff is a reasonable solution to chronic underperformance. So, who are the community’s partners at those schools? Those failing teachers who all deserve to be fired, or the new ones who don’t have any standing connection to the community? How do you simultaneously build trust and tear apart communities? (And if the superintendent and school board haven’t fostered conditions that support teaching and learning, why don’t they resign after carrying out the firing?)
3. Wurtzel shared the good news about investment in education research, promising that the results would identify and helps spread effective strategies. If they understand the value of research, why do they plunge headlong into school reform and teacher evaluation proposals that have little or no research basis? I’m talking about the entirely misguided idea of evaluating individual teachers based on students’ standardized tests (a misuse of such tests according to the three leading organizations for education research and measurement). I’m talking about the rush towards charter school expansion, despite mixed results in the research of charter school effectiveness, and serious doubts about their capacity to expand. I’m talking about the mass-firings and other unproven “turnaround” options.
4. On the topic of improving teacher evaluations, Wurtzel was careful to mention “student outcomes” as part of evaluations, and careful not to say “test scores” used for evaluation. On one hand, that’s the way it should be: we should be improving evaluations to include information about student learning. On the other hand, when so many ed-reformers out there think educational outcomes are equivalent to test scores, it would be preferable to hear the issue addressed head on.
The webinar presentation had some good parts, too. I heard an appropriate interest in expanding rather than narrowing the curriculum – though that goal seems tied to designing even more standardized assessments. I liked the idea of developing a multi-tiered teaching certification (similar perhaps to the program in New Mexico). And if the ESEA reauthorization includes funding for increased professional development and collaboration, that would be welcome news.
Some of my colleagues from Teacher Leaders Network were also listening in today, and have promised to add their commentary on their own blogs, so I hope you’ll jump over to read what these wise women have to say on the topic.
Mary Tedrow – Walking To School
Renee Moore – TeachMoore
Nancy Flanagan – Teacher In A Strange Land
Mary and Renee have recent posts on ESEA, but will follow up with their impressions from today’s webinar. Anyone with comments for the Department of Education regarding ESEA can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org