by David Hursh
With the upcoming elections we have an opportunity to shelve current federal education policy, most notably No Child Left Behind, and to develop new policies that will assist rather than harm the education system. In this and upcoming posts, I will critique current policy proposals, recommend directions our education policies might take, and suggest resources that we might use for developing policies that build on what educators, including teachers, administrators, and researchers, have learned about teaching, learning, and schools.
In creating and passing NCLB, the Bush administration and Congress intentionally ignored the voices of teachers. Moreover, the Bush administration has consistently distained educators, most notably when former Secretary of Education called teachers’ unions “terrorist organizations.”
In response, both public school teachers and administrators, and those of us who support public education must work to develop an accountability system that does not treat educators as the enemy but instead creates partnerships between teachers, parents, and the community. In the journal Voices in Urban Education published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University (Spring 2003), noted authors such as Michelle Fine and Dennie Palmer Wolf provide an outline for a new accountability system characterized by:
• Respect for parents and children.
• Internal accountability and a shared system of values and norms.
• Robust multiple indicator systems for measuring student achievement.
We need to develop new systems that provide real information for parents and the wider community and develop trust between. Developing a system to replace and improve on NCLB should be a central conversation between educators, parents, and the wider community over the next year.
Moreover, we need to recognize that the Federal government must play a positive role in education and work to develop a new education policy from preschool though post-graduate education. The recent report from The Forum for Education and Democracy (with Linda Darling-Hammond and George Wood as conveners), titled Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Education Policy, provides some initial thinking about how the federal government can play a positive role in revitalizing schools, teacher education, and educational research. They focus on
• Investments and incentives for more equitable access to high-quality schools.
• A set of intensive initiatives to develop a world-class education workforce.
• A forward-looking agenda for educational research, innovation, and dissemination, and
• New strategies that enable communities to engage with and be accountable for their local schools.
Their proposals, which I will discuss further in subsequent posts, cost money. But, as they point out, they cost far less that what is being wasted in Iraq and elsewhere, and will, in the long run, result in improved education and standard of living.
Two articles published this week that raise issues worth discussion include:
Jeremy Miller’s “Tyranny of the Test: One Year as a Kaplan Coach in the Public Schools,” published in the September issue of Harper’s Magazine. Miller, who taught in the New York City public schools, returns as Kaplan coach for the SATs. Miller describes how NCLB, because it requires “failing schools” to focus in increasing test scores, diverts funding away from where it is needed– teacher salaries, building maintenance, and supplies– and towards paying private test prep companies such as Kaplan. Much like Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005), Miller reveals how the testing regime harms our urban schools.
Paul Tough’s “A Teachable Moment” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine of August 17th. After Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the New Orleans public schools’ infrastructure, the Bush administration and other neoconservatives used it as an opportunity to replace the public schools with private charter schools and poured millions of federal dollars into privatizing the system. Tough’s article focuses on the privatizing of the New Orleans public schools but ignores the larger politics of the Bush administration and privatization proponents and describes the privatization efforts in largely positive terms. The article is worth reading for its description of what is occurring in New Orleans but also should be critiqued for what is left unsaid, something I hope to do at a later time. For a brief history of privatization in New Orleans, see the last chapter in my book: High Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).