2006

Beyond NCLB

I have to admit that when the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was passed I paid little attention. As a high school principal I had other things on my mind, like developing a literacy program, finding funding for our students to do more internships, senior project night, next year's schedule, and scraping together enough dimes from vending machines to send our juniors on college visits. Federal legislation was the last thing on my mind; I was interested in the quality of work going on in our classrooms.

Election Day 2006

It's Election Day, 2006, and like many of you I am going to get to my email after I work at our local polling place. I try to spend every Election Day at the polls for one reason — it's such a delight to see my current and former students come in to vote, especially those voting for the first time.

Notes from Nebraska

In most states when teachers and administrators gather to talk about assessment you can count on four things: The talk will be about pass rates and cut scores; nothing much will be said about student learning; plenty of time will be devoted to how to get teachers to teach to the test; and no one will go home happy. Not so in Nebraska, a state that, in spite of pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, has refused to go down the road of standardizing their schools through a on-size-fits-all testing program. (To read about The Forum's support of Nebraska's standards debate with USDOE, click here.) Instead, for Nebraska, assessment is a tool to help teachers teach and students learn rather than a club to beat schools and communities into line.

Protecting Public Schools

When my friends and colleagues get together to talk about our best work, I note that sometimes we compare it, with pride, to "public schools." At other times I hear adults in charter schools let the public forget that they too are public schools. It is as though our work is not part of that public sector, because we're different than "them" — being charters, pilots, or alternative schools. We've entered a period of history when the connotation of "public" has been allowed to be synonymous with bureaucratic and mediocre, only of use to those with no other choices. But, when we lose a sense that "we" not "they" are the public, we have undermined our society in dangerous ways.

The Conversation About Public Schooling

The Forum for Education and Democracy was founded in order to change the conversation about public schooling in America. Those of us who came together to create the Forum were dismayed to see nearly two decades of sustained school renewal work being bulldozed by a national obsession with the standardization of our public schools. As test scores, AYP, performance indexes, and a cacophony of government pronouncements rang forth from national and state capitals, much of the important and good work of school people was going unnoticed and coming undone. And most of the important questions about the future of our schools were going unasked.

NCLB: All the Wrong Questions?

This year Labor Day weekend marked not only the start of a new school year, but the full-scale launch of the 2006 election season as well. Thirty-seven governorships, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives are up for election. Once they take their seats next January one of the first orders of business they face will be the reauthorization of the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act — or what is now called the No Child Left Behind Act.

Teacher Quality

Tim teaches science in my school. Starting just his fifth year he is one of the most outstanding teachers with whom I have worked. He has led our staff in rethinking how to integrate our state standards into our experiential curriculum, led the school's research efforts on adolescent literacy, and is doing research on concept attainment and vocabulary skills. Kids love his classes because they are always engaged and challenged — be it when they found warning tape and flashing lights at the classroom door warning of an oil spill (which they had to clean up) or the energetic demonstrations of plate tectonics complete with audio and visual aids. Tim is simply an outstanding teacher.

Summer Reading

For most of us school people mid-July is when we finally close the books on one school year and take some time off. Next school year is far enough away that school planning can wait and we settle into a few weeks of down time. Just in case you have not yet chosen books to read on the beach or at the cabin, here are a few suggestions in addition to those works you will find by our Conveners on our website.

Independence Day

It seems appropriate on Independence Day to remind ourselves that a healthy democracy relies upon a healthy system of publicly supported schools. Perhaps America needs more than to be reminded, it needs to be reawakened to the fact that without public education they very notion of "the public" will perish. Or, as Jefferson put it so eloquently, "If Americans desire to be free and ignorant, they want something that has never been and never will be."

Reality Based Educational Policy

Ever wonder why educational policy at the state and federal levels seems so out of touch with the reality of the school or classroom? Maybe it's because the people who write it have so little connection or experience with actually doing the job. A recent book by Elizabeth DeBray recounts the path the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation took. It is a real eye opener for those of us who don't spend time inside the beltway. The bottom line is that NCLB was driven by ideology and power politics, not experience with teaching and learning.