Let’s leave No Child Left Behind behind us
This year, Congress will take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. The last time the Bush administration acted to have ESEA reauthorized, we got the No Child Left Behind act, NCLB. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has released a blueprint for ESEA. Unfortunately, this blueprint seems to repeat some of the mistakes made in NCLB. It’s not just me or the educators that I represent that feel this way. Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education in the George H.W. Bush administration who worked for then-Secretary Lamar Alexander, has described the Obama administration’s plans as “too deeply rooted in the flawed assumptions of NCLB.”In an interview with The Economist magazine, Ravitch diagnosed the new proposal’s problems:“There is no evidence that closing schools, firing principals and teachers will magically produce better schools. There is no evidence that there are 5,000 outstanding principals waiting to be called to lead these schools, or that hundreds of thousands of ‘great’ teachers will leave their jobs to teach in stigmatized schools. This is the same punitive approach embedded in NCLB. It rests on a fundamental belief that schools need incentives and sanctions, a whiplash to improve. It is based on test scores, and it will do nothing to lift education in those schools or in any other schools.”The flaws are serious. During a recession, this plan would replace the current stable funding formula method to a scheme of competitive grants. This means that districts have fewer resources available to achieve the ESEA goals in their local schools at the same time that they are being judged on whether or not they merit federal funding. Simultaneously, the Obama blueprint sets up winning and losing school districts through the competitive grants process. Competitive grants will pit school districts within New Hampshire against each other, with more losers than winners.In addition to repeating many of the mistakes the second Bush administration made with NCLB, the blueprint also cuts programs that are currently working, like those that encourage parent involvement. It proposes the elimination of the only federal program dedicated to family engagement, removes essential mechanisms for engaging parents and limits parent engagement to after-school programs and programs administered by the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools – programs that already require parent involvement under the current law.No Child Left Behind wasn’t all bad. Schools that could afford it were given an opportunity to use team teachers at the middle-school level, each one highly qualified in his or her discipline, working together with children.President Obama has proven that he isn’t afraid of facing tough problems, and that’s to be admired. But there is a difference between facing tough problems and proposing harsh and unproven solutions.Teachers are eager to help our schools (and the Obama administration) succeed, but repeating Bush era mistakes isn’t the way to do it.We are eager to work with President Obama, as we did in advocating for health- care reform, but we can only succeed by moving forward, not back to past mistakes.We weren’t greeted as liberators. The mission wasn’t accomplished. No one did a heckuva job protecting New Orleans. The Obama administration is leaving bad ideas like these behind; let’s add No Child Left Behind to the list.Rhonda Wesolowski is president of NEA-New Hampshire.