Keep the good school promise

Those who want to dump standards and testing are abandoning the good school promise, writes Tom Vander Ark, ex-Gatesman, on his blog.

The primary reason we have a federal law like NCLB is that school boards (and state boards) allowed generations of chronic failure. They cut bad employment deals and asked for more money when things didn’t go well. Teachers that could went to the suburbs. Most low income and minority kids were getting left behind. Anyone committed to equity could see things had to change.

NCLB reflected a consensus that 1) measurement and transparency would help us understand the problem, 2) that a basic template for school accountability would ensure that things would get better for underserved students, and 3) the federal government should play a bigger role in ensuring equity and excellence.

There were a bunch of technical problems with the bill in 2001 and they never got fixed. But the biggest problem is that 8 years later states and school boards have continued to allow chronic failure—they basically ignored the federal demands to intervene.

If we throw out NCLB, we’re giving up on equity, Vander Ark writes.

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  1. Among the problems are educators at all levels simply waiting out the change. If enough people simply continue to ignore the evidence, all the while proclaiming that change is simply not possible, the hope is that legislators will respond with a softer deal.

    Personally, I’m with VanderArk.

  2. That can’t be! Liberal teachers value “equity” more than they love their own souls, but they and their union overlords despise NCLB.

    Joanne, clearly you and VanderArk are mistaken.

    {sarcasm now /off}

  3. Given that the law required the states to set the standards, it doesn’t seem reasonable to say that there was a national consensus on items 1 and 3.

  4. There were plenty of good schools, too, that weren’t being distracted by directives from the kingdom of abstraction.

    So are the bad schools good now?

    Uh, no. Yes, I know–we need to do it more. The dream of fixing things by central control is a totalitarian dream, with success forever receding as the controls get more onerous.

  5. Margo/Mom says:


    I am reminded of a quadrant chart that Christensen uses in Disrupting Education. One continuum runs from zero to full agreement with regard to vision–or where the organization is going. The other continuum runs from zero to full agreement with regard to methods for getting there. He specifies the kinds of management strategies needed in each quadrant. Where there is high agreement with regard to vision but none regarding what is to be accomplished, he suggests implementation of measures, to clarify what is working and what is not, in terms of that commonly agreed upon diregtion. Conversely, where there is strong commitment to methodology (the way we have always done it), but incoherent direction, a more visionary style of leadership is required. Where both are clear, the leadership focuses on institutionalization. The problem with much of education today is that it is stuck in the lower left quadrant–no agreement on either methods or vision: chaos. This is a quadrant that requires of leadership bold action–setting standards, weeding out employees, in essence a total reformation. In someone else’s terms (and I forget who presents this analogy), setting the direction for the bus, but also ensuring that the right people are on the bus–that everyone intends to go the same place.

    I am quite certain that everyone has experienced the effect that even one cynic can have on the ability of a group to plan and act–the person who sits back and says “that will never work,” but has no contribution with regard to what will. Many of our schools (particularly those where low-income and minority children attend) have more than a few such scoffers–believing that their students really cannot learn as much as a set of minimum standards might prescribe, or that parents can be engaged as partners, or that there is anything of value to be found in the surrounding neighborhood. Throw into that mix the variety of allegiences to doing things “my way,” and it is not surprising that children do not succeed, that many teachers who truly care are frustrated and parents feel a sense of total oppression and hopelessness. And that’s just the adults. Imagine the impact on the children.

    So, clearly, for some schools, implementing measures is sufficient–because they are together on “the vision thing.” Some schools will require more drastic action.


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