Thursday, May 27, 2010

RE-authorization of ESEA, NCLB

Dear Supporter of a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA):

We don't expect the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now known as "No Child Left Behind") to take place this year. 
But Congress and the Administration are working on developing a proposal, and many BBA leaders and signatories have been meeting with Senators, Congresspeople, their staffs, and Administration officials to urge more sensible approaches than those we believe are being considered seriously. 
Although each BBA leader and signatory speaks only for him or herself in this advocacy, and may emphasize different aspects of our common program, we thought it would be helpful if we developed suggested "talking points" to which you can refer when you urge the adoption of a Broader, Bolder Approach. 
These are the points (also attached to this e-mail, and available on our website at: )
 1. Neither schools nor teachers should be held accountable based primarily on test scores of students. Such accountability can lead to gross misidentification of failing schools and creates incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, and substitute drill for education.

2. So-called "growth models" that are based on student growth from one year to the next would be an improvement over accountability models based on the comparison of score levels of successive cohorts, but are still flawed. A September to June measure would be an improvement (although could still misidentify schools), but would require federal mandates for twice-annual testing and would create incentives for different kinds of gaming (to depress September scores, for example) if used for accountability purposes.

3. A good accountability system should include scores on high-quality tests as indicators, but must also be based on qualitative observation and evaluation. Such a system is necessarily too complex to be designed and regulated by the federal government. ESEA should require states to develop such accountability systems to replace heavily test-based systems, and states should be given latitude to experiment with the design of such systems.

4. Even if standards and tests are improved (as in the common core standards), their exclusive focus on math and English maintains incentives to narrow the curriculum. No school should be judged successful if it improves math and reading performance at the expense of the arts, science, history, health and physical education, character development, and other elements of a full curriculum. The qualitative evaluation that should be the core of accountability systems can ensure that schools, even those with high math and reading scores, are pursuing a balanced curriculum.

5. Although schools should be improved, the most powerful impediment to higher achievement of disadvantaged children is the lack of social, economic and community conditions that permit them to come to school ready to learn. The Obama Administration's support for Promise Neighborhoods, the Nurse-Family Partnership, high-quality Early Childhood programs, high-quality after-school and summer programs, and family and community engagement programs, recognizes this importance. Yet if these programmatic supports are important, and necessary to student success, then it makes no sense to hold schools accountable for producing success irrespective of whether those schools have access to these supporting services. If good schools and teachers were truly capable of getting all children college-ready without such services, then there would be no reason to promote these additional supports. The Administration should integrate the many programs in different federal agencies that attempt to support the successful development of children from low-income families, and its school accountability policies should be consistent with this integration.

6. Although some competitive grants may have a constructive role to play in federal funding for education in some situations, in this time of fiscal crisis in the states and school districts, most federal funding should be by formula. In the present fiscal environment, real (inflation-adjusted) cuts to Title I funding should be rejected. Rather, a real increase in the Title I formula program is urgently needed.

For further information about A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,
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