Viewpoint: How we should improve on NCLB

AASA hopes educators and school reformers will work together to improve NCLB.

(Editor’s note: This article marks the debut of a new monthly column from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech on school leadership. It appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of eSchool News.)

From Feb. 17-19, the “Great Education Conversation” will take place in Denver as part of the American Association of School Administrators’ national conference. It will be a dialogue between traditional educators and those the media has branded as reformers.

Though we all share the same goal—providing our children with the best education possible—we differ as to the means to achieve that goal. AASA’s thinking is that we might be better off working together than at odds with each other. In line with that theme, the conference will be preceded by two days of “conversations” between superintendents, school board presidents, and labor union presidents, intent on advancing student achievement through improved labor-management relations. The event is being jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, AASA, the National School Boards Association, the Council of Great City Schools, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association; the Ford Foundation is underwriting this invitation-only event.

An important theme of the great conversation will be the future of education as determined by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Obama administration’s success during the lame-duck session of Congress in December has given me renewed hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the reauthorization of ESEA might have a chance of passing this legislative session. In preparation for the discussions that will precede passage, I dug up my old, wrinkled, and frayed copy of the administration’s “A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Re-reading it for the umpteenth time reminds me there are many ideas in this document that I really like. We have been laboring for so long under the unreasonable and unrealistic demands of No Child Left Behind that we are anxious for changes in what President Obama refers to as a “flawed law” in his introduction to the Blueprint. Indeed, the president’s introduction speaks to the many changes that educators have looked forward to since passage of NCLB.

In laying a foundation for the changes that must take place, the president says, “The countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” This is a clear reference to the fact that the United States, once the leader of the world in college completion, now ranks 11th. The president wants to regain our leadership role in education, and so he sets a new goal: By the year 2020, the U.S. once again will lead the world in college completion.

At first, this seems a more achievable goal than NCLB’s task of having every school in America making Adequate Yearly Progress by 2014. At this stage of the game, it appears likely that most schools in America will have failed to make AYP by 2014, including many schools acknowledged to be among the best in the country. This anomaly has less to do with the quality of the school and more with the logistical requirements for making AYP. Thus, the need for change.

Laura Ascione

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