As American schools face the loss of $100 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the $4.35 billion from “Race to the Top,” I hope Congress will find the political will and motivation to finally reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2011, now known as the infamous “No Child Left Behind Act.” Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, solicited input from stakeholders, which can be read in the Department of Education’s, A Blueprint for Reform. Many recommendations were made for improvement, although it remains unclear how they could be adopted without the funding to do so.
In a nutshell, the Blueprint advocates for definitions of highly effective teachers and principals, “college and career ready” standards, and will create three new tiers of schools. In addition, it will measure student status and year-to-year growth. Interestingly, it supports the “expansion of high performing public charter schools,” although I’m not sure what that means considering so many charter schools have no evidence of educating their students any better than public schools. If the federal government wants to replicate those few isolated charters that seem to have made a difference, tell me why more money can’t be invested in low performing, underfunded public schools to achieve the same results? Where will the funding come from to fill the budget cuts that currently face states like Ohio, where newly elected governors have increased salaries for their staff, but are hell bent on shortchanging children with huge budget cuts to public education?
Some like Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor, of the School Mental Health Project at UCLA, don’t think the blueprint goes far enough, arguing that it doesn’t effectively address barriers to learning, especially for those students living in dire poverty, attending the lowest performing schools across the nation. They believe that this component needs to be expanded. I couldn’t agree more. This aspect should become the major component of NCLB. Obviously, successful schools are not going to benefit from NCLB no matter what the components are, but districts plagued with poverty, with high numbers of English language learners, where parents don’t or can’t help there children succeed, will benefit the most. The Blueprint does little to change the status quo or help those districts plagued by financial problems like districts in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. When states fail to provide adequate means to educate their poor students, districts, still, will have nowhere to turn for help. The worst schools in America should be the priority of this administration.
Much time has been wasted in Washington last year given the full legislative agenda and mid-term elections. As we wait for the ridiculous attempt of the house Republicans to repeal the new health care law, time continues to tick, states face huge deficits, and school funding is in crisis especially for those schools in Ohio who can’t pass school levies. Sadly, passage of the ESEA Reauthorization will probably be no less rancorous than the health care debate, as this legislation will establish new domestic policy, and some of the old issues such as school prayer, home schooling, or the teaching of evolution will probably creep into the debate. Meanwhile, teachers will be laid off at the end of the school year, and many high school seniors will not graduate in 2011, as legislators continue to play games in Washington.
By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association