The President’s Relaxing of No Child Left Behind Standards is a tacit acknowledgement that the law's main goal, getting all students up to speed in reading and math by 2014, is not within reach. In the President’s word’s on CNN Thursday:
“The states excused from following the law no longer have to meet that deadline. Instead, they had to put forward plans showing they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.”
So what does this mean? I went to a public policy meeting at The Georgian Club last week and heard it straight from legislators as we rallied at the state capitol. What this means is that Georgia will have autonomy in curriculum development and deployment of resources to improve achievement gaps; how to measure student, teacher and administrator achievement; how to implement general programming; Title 1 Parent Engagement activities, and Community Involvement programming. It now rests with the states how Georgia schools use federal funding for innovative programming. What I didn’t hear is what Georgia is planning to do specifically.
There it is. States and citizens arguing that the federal government should relax control of state schools have won a small victory. No one would argue that No Child Left Behind’s intentions was to motivate states to make dramatic changes in the way they educate, and set an accountability goal in the process, in response to growing achievement gaps across race and class,. Now that the goal is removed, what should we now expect as parents and employers? Will the states actually do better? Will the new standards and achievement targets help the schools that need it most? Will the state of Georgia school superintendent lead us to standards and systems that increase reading and math skills by 2014? Will our Cobb County Board of Education be judicious and responsive? Will the State of Georgia do a good job of leveling the playing field with equity in educational resources, accountability and outcomes?
Considering our spotty history with handling educational issues across race and class, some might have been more comfortable with President Obama’s lead, who obviously has ideas on what a good education looks like (he’s a Harvard grad, attended what is basically a selective charter school in Hawaii, and is sending his own children to a faith-based, private Quaker school outside of D.C. Moreover, Hawaii and Chicago both are better than Georgia at keeping it’s schooled citizens out of prisons (where according Senator Doug Stoner, third grade reading level is the best predictor).
But why didn’t he lay more of an education blueprint down for the states? Is he demonstrating educated elitist hypocrisy? Why doesn’t his critique of “wall street fat cats” extend to “ivory tower” or “education fat cats?” Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I can only imagine that he, like me, also believes schools should have more local control. Whether that is his intention or not, therein lies the window of opportunity for parents and citizens who want school reform. Relaxed federal standards, is a step in the right direction towards localized standards.
We can now look for the President’s “CHANGE” and Georgia’s “HOPE” to be bridged by action and commitment to the schools that need it most. But oh how the elitism of low expectations might sabotage efforts for educational improvements. More on that later.
Here are some strategies we should consider to have a voice in this opportunity for more localized solutions.
- Know the Process: The Georgia Department of Education will work with local officials such as State and District Board of Education and Superintendents of Schools to develop the alternative to No Child Left Behind. Did you know that the process is already underway?
- Know if your Representatives are Representing: Don’t assume your local official comprehends the challenge of educational achievement. They may be fully informed about the issues only as it relates to their personal experience, their profession, or the input of their constituency. To hold your officials accountable they all, whether in your district/post or not, must know that you not only care, but that you are informed and want to be engaged. To that end, connect with organizations involved as education watchdogs or insiders. Here is a link for stakeholder organizations identified as engaged in the process for educational reform in this waiver request.
- Demand Explanations: When administrators and officials make statements like, and I am making this up, “we will implement more accurate assessments to achievement with the relaxing of NCLB” ask them to give examples.
- Demand and Define Results: One should expect with this relaxing of federal control, a relaxing of the crippling demand on teachers to “teach to the test.” We can therefore expect teachers to improve performance by teaching for results. What results they teach for needs our voice. Do we want more vocational or manufacturing ability results? More technology capabilities amongst youth? More college prep results? The results may differ depending on issues from student aptitudes to state economic and workforce demands. Being a proactive part of this conversation is key.
- Protect the Children More than Status Quo: We must make certain that the industries and stakeholders that have benefited from the old ways of doing things don’t unbalance the playing fields with insular, inflexible systems. Organizations are notorious for holding on to their missions and strategies to the detriment of innovation.
- Ask for Town Halls on this Specific Matter: Ask your school board to have community meetings where you live to share how the NCLB standards and measures will be reshaped by the Georgia Department of Education. There are numerous organizations in Cobb defined as “pro-education.” Ask how you can join in for learning and sharing the knowledge. Ask what will define an “Alert School,” how the board of education will design “Flexible Learning Programs” (FLPs) to select schools, and how federal funds will be disbursed for example.
- Define You Own Issues: Join a group. Write letters. Host community roundtables. Help local officials understand unique challenges your community faces so that they may be informed when making decisions that will effect Cobb, Georgia’s, and America’s future.