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Posted at 11:25 AM ET, 01/12/2011

Obama on No Child Left Behind: Get me rewrite

By Washington Post editors

My colleague Nick Anderson reported today that President Obama has green-lighted another attempt to revise the No Child Left Behind education law. Here is a guest item on this development from The Post's national education writer.

Every year since 2007, the education world has wondered whether Congress will revise the law many teachers love to hate: No Child Left Behind. Every year, lawmakers have punted. Will 2011 be any different?

There are plenty of reasons for skepticism. First, congressional Republicans have their eyes on other matters, including spending cuts. If the Education Department budget takes a hit -- and it's hard to see how it won't be a big, inviting target for the new House GOP majority -- that might not bode well for bipartisan compromise on the school testing and accountability policies at the heart of the 2002 education law. Remember that President George W. Bush secured a big majority for passage of the law in part through the promise of funding increases. Money greases deals. Budget cuts don't.

Second, many Republicans are not keen on giving President Obama a major domestic policy win as he heads into a reelection campaign. Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy and other analysts have made this point. Call this the 2012 problem.

Third, both parties have well-known internal debates over education reform. Some Republicans don't think the Education Department should exist, and at least a few of them got elected last year. Their view is not shared by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who helped write No Child Left Behind, or by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former education secretary himself, but it certainly poses a complication as the GOP begins negotiations.

As for Democrats, many believe teacher performance pay and tenure/evaluation reform are misplaced priorities when school budgets are getting whacked. Such issues helped sink the first attempt at bipartisan rewrite of NCLB in fall 2007. But Obama continues to support reform in this key area. Watch out for Democratic feuds on this front.

Despite these challenges, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made clear the other day in an interview with The Post's editorial board and news staff that the administration is eager to seize the chance for a deal. The biggest reason why it may succeed is that the law itself is nearing a major deadline with a goal that is impossible to fulfill. Call this the 2014 opportunity.

Under the law, schools must aim every year to advance toward a goal of all students passing reading and math tests by 2014. (By all students, we mean those tested in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and we acknowledge there are caveats and exceptions. Those of you who remind us of "safe harbors," "N-size," and special circumstances for certain English language learners and certain disabled students -- we hear you and salute you.)

That 2014 goal of universal proficiency was distant and manageable in the early years after the law was enacted. It made a great talking point. And it was, of course, literally, the essence of the brand No Child Left Behind. Now that the goal is near, it has become unmanageable. Educators have long known that, with isolated exceptions, schools are not going to be able to achieve perfect proficiency ratings every year. Students don't learn that way. Test scores don't work that way. Any exams that would yield repeatedly perfect scores wouldn't be worth much.

As the number of schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward the 2014 goal rises every year, (there are thousands and thousands) so do complaints about the law. That ultimately builds pressure for congressional action.

Here is the current take on the rewrite possibility from the new chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.): “No matter who you talk to – parents and teachers, superintendents and governors, Republicans and Democrats – everyone agrees this law needs reform. My goal is to pull back federal involvement in the day-to-day operation of our classrooms so the innovation and accountability being driven by states and local schools has a chance to succeed, and I hope we can find agreement in Washington to allow that to happen.”

Kline has suggested breaking the rewrite into small pieces and moving a series of bills through the House. (Note that it is a suggestion, not a pledge.) The Senate, led by Democrats, would probably tackle the issue in a different way. Here is Duncan's take on the bit-at-a-time strategy: "I'm open to that conversation. I want to understand what it means."

Duncan added, "If you fix one tiny piece and leave a lot that's broken, that would be less than optimal to me."

That sounds to me like the legislative game is on. But whether Obama will get a bill to sign this year or next is another question altogether.

By Washington Post editors  | January 12, 2011; 11:25 AM ET
 
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Comments

"No matter who you talk to – parents and teachers, superintendents and governors, Republicans and Democrats – everyone agrees this law needs reform."
................................
Americans would have laughed at a law to make every child in America proficient in playing football by 2014 and yet they accepted No Child Left Behind.

I guess if congress passes a law that the world is flat, the answer later is to "reform" that law.

No Child Left Behind should be accepted as an example for psychology books of mass delusions where supposedly sane individuals accept the absurd.

No Child Left Behind was no more than the delusion that we would significantly improve the system of public education without spending large amounts of public money.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 12, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"No matter who you talk to – parents and teachers, superintendents and governors, Republicans and Democrats – everyone agrees this law needs reform."
................................
Americans would have laughed at a law to make every child in America proficient in playing football by 2014 and yet they accepted No Child Left Behind.

I guess if congress passes a law that the world is flat, the answer later is to "reform" that law.

No Child Left Behind should be accepted as an example for psychology books of mass delusions where supposedly sane individuals accept the absurd.

No Child Left Behind was no more than the delusion that we would significantly improve the system of public education without spending large amounts of public money.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 12, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

If not NCLB, then what? What would be the goal of our system? Maybe a goal isn't worth the effort and so we should just let kids graze like sheep in the education field.

We just use the results wrong. Results should be used to tweak the system but that never happens. Instead we bop kids over the head with testing and results. It would better serve our country and needs if used as a tool to improve the system. The remaining problem is to get people to accept any testing as a measure of ability. For many years it was not ability, it was an award. Not sure that hasn't changed.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 12, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack---It wasn't a mass delusion, but a very practical political problem that created the goal of all kids proficient by 2014. The creators of the law, both Democrats and Republicans, said they had no choice. If they set the bar any lower, like 60 percent, their political opponents would have said, "See? They don't really care about kids. They just decided to leave 40 percent of them in ignorance." You always get weird stuff like this when legislators make education policy, but over the years it has proved to be better than nothing, which is what would get if legislators stay away. In a democracy, no legislation means no money.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 12, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack---It wasn't a mass delusion, but a very practical political problem that created the goal of all kids proficient by 2014
Posted by: Jay Mathews
.............................
Could we please not have a rewrite of history.

The idea of No Child Left Behind was introduced in Texas and simply extended to the Federal government by President Bush. It was popular to pretend you could have children who have real obstacles in being able to learn suddenly learn by simply holding schools accountable.

Based upon this idea and logic we should hold banks accountable for individuals who can not pay their mortgages. If a bank has a foreclose on a mortgage the bank has to be reorganized with a new CEO brought in, etc.

Congress has spent in the past on legislation regarding public education without using a totally fake goal such as every child proficient by 2014. Besides the every child proficient was not a goal, but a mandate which is even weirder.

Your response really gives an example of the problem. The absurdity of NCLB was irrationally accepted by individuals. Now more absurdity is brought forth instead of recognizing the original absurdity.

It is time for everyone to be adult and admit this was absurdity from day one.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 12, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews I see you are doing articles on technology for public education.

This is the usual nonsense with every one speaking about technology without any sense.

A business spends on technology with a specific purpose and a specific plan where the costs will provide the best benefits.

The biggest problem in public education is large numbers of students that can not read. Access to websites and written material is not going to do much for these students. By the way standardized testing also does not do much for students that can not read.

The largest benefit would be from using computers to teach students to read. This technology has been available since 1994 with software such as the Disney's Animated Storybooks.

The question is not what technology to use in the school but rather why technology such as the Disney's Animated Storybooks has not been used to teach students how to read.

Increase the number of students that can read and you will actually improve public education in this country.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 12, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack--To a politician, there is nothing irrational or absurd about making sure yr reelection in not in jeopardy. Rep George Miller explained the reason for the proficiency for all clause which I shared with you above. He is one of the architects of NCLB, and a very rational guy.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 12, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

It is time to stop circling the bush and face it. The driving force behind educational "reform" is the startling realization that America will not remain globally competitive in the 21st century if children of color are not represented in the mix (hence the emphasis on "urban education").

The presumption here is that black and brown children (always poor and unparented) are woefully lodged in the cellar, while white children (all chronically prosperous but spoiled) frolic aimlessly in the rafters. Either way, there would be too few native champions to shephard the world and all its dangers.

But the real problem confronting educators in the USA is not color- or class-specific. Our children of every stripe seem to be disinterested in what we are teaching. The universe they inhabit spins faster than the one we learned. Worse yet, the resultant view appears less satisfying to all involved--including them.

Substantive connections to the lessons of the past and each other seem fleeting, and "boring" is a favorite word. So the question of the hour is: how to proceed without having to drag children and their teachers along for the ride?

NCLB, however noble the intentions, has clearly sought to lift the bar without considering the consequences of more weight and less discovery. Today's youth are a different breed; when I entered college, fancy, electronic calculators were the "it" toy. Now, diversions are everywhere, and sweat work seems antiquated and mundane.

It will never be enough to charge into classrooms dismissing weary teachers while patting distracted students on the head. Most of us in the classroom know real learning is occurring, even as standardized scores show otherwise.

How do we modulate the flavors without sabotaging the broth? How do we ensure that all our students perform without morphing into a nation more comfortable with testing than performance?

The challenge for America--as diverse as it is wide--lay in our willingness to contain our past and stimulate our future, all the while embracing our particular brand of knowledge, our extraordinary creativity, and our innate distrust of cookie cutters--no matter how tempting the shape.

For more, visit my blog at teachermandc.com.

Posted by: dcproud1 | January 12, 2011 9:10 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack--To a politician, there is nothing irrational or absurd about making sure yr reelection in not in jeopardy. Rep George Miller explained the reason for the proficiency for all clause which I shared with you above. He is one of the architects of NCLB, and a very rational guy.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
.....................
It may be true that to some politicians nothing is absurd or irrational if it will lead to reelection.

But this has no bearings on the massive delusion that was evident in accepting the absurdity of No Child Left Behind.

Your idea of of "a very rational guy" is strange since you are really just indicating an individual that will do anything to retain their political office and power. On this basis one could say that a psychopath is rational.

On your basis Hitler and Stalin in their actions should be considered as "rational" and not psychopaths.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 12, 2011 9:33 PM | Report abuse

bsall: "massive delusion"??? Your bias is showing.

Anyone can agree that NCLB is far from finished or perfect. But it was one of the very few Bush initiatives that was directionally correct and good for the country.

The majority of Americans believe pubic education is unacceptably bad/not good. They want change, including in the way we hire, develop, manage, and evaluate teachers.

Too many teachers want no part of change. They resist even the notion of being measured for performance, for example. Here in the District, quite a few teachers even resist the idea of being responsible for delivering education services during classroom time.

Posted by: axolotl | January 13, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

bsall: "massive delusion"??? Your bias is showing.
The majority of Americans believe pubic education is unacceptably bad/not good.
Posted by: axolotl
......................................
axolotl is an example of individuals who fall prey to massive delusions.

The idea that one can mandate that all children have learned a sufficient amount to be proficient by 2014 is absurd unless you define "proficient" as being able to read the word cat and respond to the question of 2+2 with the answer 4.

Contrary to those with massive delusions one can not guarantee that children with difficulty in learning can be learn.

Public education in Washington D.C. which is the reference point of axolotl is "bad/not good".

But this is simply because Washington D.C. has so many children with great difficulties in learning.

Judging public education in the United States on the basis of Washington D.C. is flawed. Might as well judge police departments and public safety in the United States on the basis of a city with high crime rates.

The 50 percent failure rates of Washington D.C. in the ability of children to read are not the norm for the nation.

This nation has a real problem with facing up to the fact that the poor have great difficulties in learning. The reality is that many children may never be able to learn.

New research is indicating that individuals are not born innately inferior or innately superior in intelligence.

The research is indicating that most individuals have the same genes but that the brain will develop very differently based upon the environment.

Apparently if a child with the equivalent genes of Einstein is born in a family with a chaotic and detrimental environment, that child would probably not even be able to learn how to read.

Is there a genius in all of us?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12140064

Posted by: bsallamack | January 13, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

"My goal is to pull back federal involvement in the day-to-day operation of our classrooms so the innovation and accountability being driven by states and local schools has a chance to succeed, and I hope we can find agreement in Washington to allow that to happen.”

I love John Kline.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 13, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

John Kline has a good idea.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 15, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Most testing and student achievement is being tied in to teacher compensation.
Policy indicates a shift to find business managers to focus on cutting teachers benefits, salaries and eliminiating tenure as cost saving measures. Children are not robots and can not be expected to perform as adults dictate they should.
Testing is unpredictable even in the best case scenario and proves nothing. I've had students who averaged 85 all year fail a state test because of a family crisis that occurs before the test. Then I get a call from an administrator somewhere that tells me the student should be held back. I then have to spend hours documenting and putting together this kids entire school year, portfolio and letter of justification for someone who knows nothing about the student or their ability but just saw one test score.
Last year when this concept was introduced all student test scores went down. Many who should have passed failed. The grading was made tougher. This was demoralizing to students who work hard. This is also demoralizing to teachers who work hard & push students to maximize their potential.
We also neglect to look at our greater society. We demonize teachers who are highly educated and work for low pay in less then perfect conditions while we evaluate rap stars and sports stars to sainthood and reward them with millions.
Current thought stands to compensate teachers individually rather than through union bargining contracts. How do you this in a less then perfect world? Teaching is a complex career.How do you compensate the teachers with the sexually or physically abused students in their room, the ones who have'nt eaten last night, the ones whose parents are in jail? The teachers of students who at 13 already have parole officers.
Do you just reward the teachers with students who perform on tests & punish those teachers who are helping socially disadvantaged ones? The introduction of bonuses or unequal pay in education opens the door to favortisim and lots of nonsense. Teachers must work as a team environment to help students and not in a competitive one where one is pitted against the other for salary and benefits. This is ugly & unhealthy for a school environment. Why don't we focus on social reform and social justice instead of focusing on dismantling teachers unions & teachers benefits.
Also, Why does everyone have to be an academic? What's wrong with promoting 3 tracks - academic, artist and vocational. In China and Asia their mainly engineers and scientists. This is America where we are the most innovative, creative & artist people in the world. Remember the rest of the world builds what we dream of. Don't think everyone who is not an academic or a straight A student is not valuable. Our strength has always been on our ability to be inventive and in our diversity. We should help children excel where their talents & abilities are and they are not always academic. What's wrong with that?

Posted by: Carolyn5491 | January 16, 2011 9:26 PM | Report abuse

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