NCLB: It’s Time to Take Action!

by theschoolprincipal on November 22, 2010

Congress doesn’t seem interested in reauthorizing NCLB during the lame duck session, but the January session with the new Congress is not far away. It’s time for those of us who know the unintended consequences of NCLB to take action. Here are my thoughts:

1.  Getting educators and parents to agree on the necessary course of action will be difficult. The first hurdle will be for us to use a common vocabulary. Why?  Many of us use the terms ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) interchangeably. And there is a valid reason for doing that. ESEA was first approved in 1965, and it has been reauthorized by Congress several times. Each reauthorization has added something new. The latest reauthorization was in 2001 under President Bush, and that’s when NCLB was added. It’s NCLB that I want to get rid of. And then to confuse matters, President Obama is pushing forth his own reauthorization, called Blueprint for Reform. I do not want President Obama’s proposal for reauthorization to be approved. The original  ESEA in 1965  brought us Title I money, which has certainly made a positive impact where I live. I do not want to eliminate Title I, which will happen if Blueprint for Reform passes. (Go to the sidebar to the right for a link to all of these documents –“Link to Documents, etc”.) For a brief explanation of my opinion of NCLB and Blueprint for Reform, see the bottom of this post.

Can you see that if we are to come to consensus that we need to be “on the same page”? We need a common vocabulary. I am working with Victoria Young (Missing Ingredient) to develop a page of terms and definitions. If you have some suggestions for terms to include, please leave a comment below, or e-mail me at “Contact Us” in the menu bar at the top.

2. We need to speak with one voice. But who or where is the leadership under which we can form? A huge number of educators and parents are out there blogging about school reform. Leadership is there. But it’s fragmented. How do we bring it together? How do we anoint the leadership in such a way that it is legitimized and accepted by the large majority of educators and parents working on this issue?

3. If we can accomplish Step 2, then what is our strategy? Here is my proposal. It’s the simplest strategy I can think of. If you have a better one, please let me know.

Basically, all we need to stop  NCLB and President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform is 51 Senators who will  vote against reauthorization. With a Republican House, it’s possible that things will come to a screeching halt. But I don’t want to take any chances, and we don’t have time to lobby over 400 members of the House. But finding 51 Senators is doable. I am currently trying to identify 51 Senators who will either definitely vote against reauthorizing NCLB or who are on the cusp. If you have any information that would help me, I would certainly appreciate it if you could let me know.

[I know it’s not quite as simple as I’m suggesting. I don’t know what kind of bill might arise from the House or the Senate. But I do know that President Obama’s Blueprint will be up for reauthorization — and inside it still lies NCLB.]

4. Once we put a stop to the reauthorization, we need a national conversation about school reform. The first item for discussion is the role the federal government should play. After my experiences with school reform for the last 35 years, I do not believe that the federal government can provide the leadership. But it can provide support. Do we leave school reform up to each state or do we unite under a loose national leadership organized by governors, similar to the efforts that have gone into the Common Core Standards? No one knows the answer to that. But we don’t have to decide that now.

If we can get Congress to delay reauthorization and forget about the utopian notion that 100% of our students will be on grade level by 2014, then we (educators and parents) will have time to address important issues.  How do we  provide equity of opportunity for all students? Student achievement — how do we recognize when progress is taking place? What do we mean by accountability and how can we put a reasonable system of accountability in place – – one that motivates, rather than punishes? That’s just a start, of course.

Who is this “we” that I am talking about? Educators, parents, local school boards and administrators and representatives from state departments of education. Somehow many of us think that Congress and/or the White House can figure out the solutions and be the “we” that makes things happen. Our federal government certainly has a place at the table. Keeping the United States competitive with other nations in the 21 st century will depend upon one thing: the education of our youth.

But decision-making at the federal level is cumbersome and bureaucratic. It is political in nature and relies on compromise, which does not lead to sound school reform. It depends on trade-off’s in order to get votes. Once a bill has been passed, its unintended consequences can not  be tweaked on the spot a couple of months later. State governments and departments of ed are more responsive and easier to approach. Besides, very few Congressmen have been in the trenches of public education themselves. How can they possibly make sound, sweeping, monumental decisions that apply across the board to every school in the nation? They can’t. NCLB is the proof.

Will you help? Will you provide advice? Will you leave your ideas here? If you leave your comments, you can make up a user name or you can use your own name. I will never give your name or any information about you to anyone. That is my pledge. Time is running short. Please enter the fray alongside me.

And as a treat, here’s a recent interview with Diane Ravitch by Michael F. Shaughnessy at  about the post-election results. Diane is so good at clarifying issues and enlightening us. And you can see from the comments that follow her interview that it’s not going to be easy to get those of us fighting NCLB to get on the same page. Oh dear. But let’s take the first step!

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