Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More Reasons for Hope

In a recent post I found a few things to be optimistic about in terms of educational policy in the states. Now, more hopeful signs: the results ihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifn the Wake County, NC school board elections, an Oregon school district’s refusalhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif to take the bribe to institute teacher assessments linked to standardized test scores, and the pressures of No Child Left Behind landing on the doorstep of an innovative school.

In 1976 the school board in Wake County, lead by one of the more courageous superintendents in the nation, began the process of desegregating its schools by socioeconomic status. The logic was simple: if you wanted to ensure equal access to an education, you needed to make sure that schools were not segregated by the incomes of students’ families. When you group all the middle class students in one school and all the poor students in another, you simply exacerbate the effects of poverty and all but ensure one school will succeed while the other will struggle.

Unfortunately, when the well-to-do in Wake County found that they had to share access to public schools, those who have struck out at those who do not. The school board election in 2009 brought to power a group of citizens determined to overturn the equity agenda. Public battles became the rule of the day at the Wake County Board meetings.

But, and here is the hopeful moment, elections in October brought back a school board committed to the equity agenda. This happened in spite of the funding provided by anti-public school folks such as Art Pope, the Koch brothers, and the interestingly named Americans for Prosperity. The 2009 election was a sleeper, with the anti-equity candidates running a well-financed stealth operation. But when the questions were out in the public, when the issues of equity were front and center, a coalition of progressive groups held the day.

Here is more. It seems that a $2.45 million dollar bribe could not convince the Oregon City School District to walk off the plank of so-called teacher performance pay. Let’s be honest, teacher performance pay is just a nice moniker for paying teachers for higher test scores, because that is the only ‘data’ that matters in these schemes. The research on this is clear; it does not work, but, as we all know, what drives educational policy is not research but ideology.

And one more, an article in the New York Times points out that the Oyster River Middle School, in Durham, N.H., is failing under NCLB. Yep, a school known for creative teaching in a district with an average home value of around $350,000, where around 5% of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunches, with 70% of the kids going on to college while averaging an SAT score of 1674 (the national average is 1509) is failing.

So why is that a hopeful sign? Well, I have always thought that once schools that are serving the most powerful of families are under pressure from NCLB then, and only then, would legislators understand how poorly this law works. More than anything else, money talks in DC and state capitals. And when the schools that educate the children of the well off start to feel the pain of having all kids proficient by 2012 then, and only then, will pressure be on to change the law. Looks like that moment is finally arriving.

If you think about it, all three of these stories from around the nation speak to what the federal government should be doing when it comes to educational policy. As The Forum for Education and Democracy put in its report on the changes needed to ESEA, "we must restore an appropriate balance of authority, with the federal government taking a more pro-active role in ensuring equitable educational opportunity, and a less heavy-handed, more productive role in helping states and localities to focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning. This agenda would reclaim and extend the historic federal role in public education: first, by acknowledging education as a civil right that should be made available to all on equal terms, and second, by taking on the critical tasks that demand a strong central role in building the capacity of schools to offer high-quality opportunities responsive to our fast changing world."

Policy makers could learn from Wake County, Oregon City, and Oyster River. They could learn that their most important job when crafting federal policy is to focus on equity and teacher supply. That would indeed leave no child behind.

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