Readers: Here’s how we’d change ESEA

"Even Diane Ravitch, one of NCLB's greatest champions, has reconsidered her position," said a reader.

With Education Secretary Arne Duncan warning Congress that he’ll take matters into his own hands if lawmakers this year fail to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind, eSchool News recently asked readers: “What’s one change/revision/addition you’d like to see in ESEA?”

The nation’s education law is long overdue for a revision, and Duncan has called its current tangle of strict accountability measures “a slow-motion train wreck for schools,” noting that as many as 80 percent of schools could be labeled failures next year if the law isn’t changed.

Holding up the process in Congress is broad disagreement over how to revise ESEA in a way that is fair to schools, while still holding them accountable for student success. Here are the eight best suggestions we received from readers who are on the front lines of these issues, edited for brevity and presented in no particular order:

1. Change student testing.

“It’s time for rational and fiscal responsibility: End the ridiculous and unnecessary yearly testing of students. Anyone with even a minimum knowledge of statistics knows that there are fallacies in data results from so much testing … regression to the mean, bell curve normal distribution of scores … we can’t all be at the mean, that defies the laws of nature. Let our teachers teach creative and critical thinking skills, as opposed to how to bubble in the best multiple-choice response.” —Patricia F. Wood, Ph.D.

2. Understand the need for personalized instruction.

“I would like to see time as a variable and mastery what we measure. Children learn at different rates and have different preferential learning modalities. Each child is the class.” —Abraham Fischler

3. Rethink the needs of special-education students.

“One change I would like to see is our special-education students’ test scores looked at in a growth model instead of a proficient/advanced model used by regular education students.” —Anita Reagan, professional school counselor, Central Middle School

4. Support English language learners.

“Address the needs of our English language learners (ELLs)—our growing population that affects every classroom. All teachers need to be prepared with professional development in language acquisition, SIOP, etc.” —Maura Sedgeman, Dearborn Public Schools, Michigan

5. Develop new criteria for Supplementary Educational Services (SES).

“This has been the most disturbing to our school community, because of the funds it generates for vendors who are not in the business to provide tutoring to our students, but are in the business to turn a substantial profit from the futures of our children. It has become a rush to get as many students signed up to generate the most money for each company. The template used allows all vendors to select their own assessment instruments and curriculum. It is impossible to determine the effectiveness of any vendor, because of the way the reporting is done.

“We can still set aside the funds … however, my suggestion is that we contract with a vendor who would need to respond to a proposal with very specific criteria identified that would allow an evaluation of the effectiveness of the funding on an annual basis. Part of the Title I funding requires an evaluation of the resources allocated; however, we cannot evaluate the SES program, because every single vendor is different. The $1.3 million we allocate is a mandate that we honor, but the funds are not truly helping students, nor can we measure growth according to a common assessment.” —Marisa DiMauro, Director of Categorical Programs, Madera Unified School District

6. Distribute federal funding more equitably to private schools.

“Since the ESEA funding is determined by the total (public and private) enrollment within an LEA (Local Education Authority), I’d like to see language in ESEA which would allow private school students to participate equitably in the funding allocation before the LEA reallocates funds to other programs that exclude participation of private school students.” —Tom Butler, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Stockton, California

7. Incorporate 21st-century needs and strategies.

“Revamp accountability to include cumulative formative assessments, including project-based learning options, and allow for professional development for preK teachers/administrators through higher-education professors—this is a critical, key component in terms of time and funding. Also, place a technology and global emphasis that are melded consistently as non-negotiable requirements for instruction at all grade levels.” —Dr. Jan Jones, VIA Associates Inc., Educational Consulting Services

8. Just start over.

“Instead of raising achievement levels, [NCLB] has lowered expectations, especially for high-ability students. It is a huge and crushing unfunded mandate. It has forced schools to teach to the test, even though they deny it. It has marginalized science, social studies, and arts education. What is there to like about it? Even Diane Ravitch, one of NCLB’s greatest champions, has reconsidered her position. There is not one change, but several that I would like to see. But perhaps it would be simpler to scrap the whole thing and start over.” —Julia Famularo

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