Strong principals are made stronger by No Child Left Behind, Jay Mathews argues in the Washington Post. In a response to columns (here and here) by a colleague, Marc Fisher, Mathews argues there are few examples of good schools abandoning good teaching practices because of NCLB’s pressures.
(Principal Jean) Frey herself acknowledges that Bailey’s teachers would spend time reviewing and assessing with or without the worries of No Child Left Behind, because they know that review is a vital part of the learning process and that a variety of assessments are invaluable to ascertaining what parts of the lesson have or have not been absorbed. All she wants is an assessment system that gets results back to her more quickly, and a reduction in the number of tripwires in the federal law so Bailey’s isn’t labeled as “needing improvement” just because a few too many of her Spanish-speaking students could not pass their English tests. When Congress tries to revise the law next year, such good suggestions are likely to be heeded.
At another school, allegedly threatened by transfers from low-performing schools, only 20 of 402 students are NCLB transfers. Principal Anthony Fears has used NCLB to deny other transfer requests, cutting enrollment from a high of 525.
Mathews summarizes the case for NCLB.
No Child Left Behind is not the best accountability system ever invented. But, most policy makers and educators say, it has the right idea. Learning should be measured with tests. Standardized tests are in many ways better than the teachers’ tests that have ruled schools up to now, because teachers can quietly decide not to test concepts that they have failed to teach well. Other forms of assessment, such as collections of work and conversations with teachers, have potential, but nobody has yet shown a way to make them work well with elementary school children from low-income homes.
Good educators such as Frey and Fears need a standard to guide them, a target to shoot for, so they can convince teachers to spend more time helping struggling students, convince parents to make sure homework is done and convince administrators at headquarters not to choke them with red tape.