Education Change You Can Believe In From Obama, Duncan

I’m floored. I can’t believe this education proposal has come out of this administration. I had figured the President was in the back pocket of the NEA and AFT given the tremendous sums they gave to his election but he proved me wrong today. In this case I have no problem being proven wrong — bravo President Obama and bravo Secretary Arne Duncan.

Now this is just a proposal at this point so while I am giddy as all get-out about it I’m still not holding my breath. He can champion this all he would like but he still has to turn to Congress to get this done. I’m hopeful there is support in Congress for this and I’m hopeful Republicans are leading the charge because this is a transformation of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NLCB) and takes important steps to fix what is wrong with it while still insisting on accountability.

First we need to talk about what is broken with NCLB and that is ever increasing standards that can’t possibly be met. Standardized tests are based on percentiles so if you require schools to place within a certain percentile you are creating a glass ceiling — there will be a point where you can’t improve and if everyone improves someone still has to be at the bottom. This is the fundamental flaw of NCLB — it punishes districts even if they are making improvements.

While the administration has put out what it is calling a “blueprint” and not legislation, and I’ve been unable to find any outline yet what Duncan and Obama are saying is highly encouraging. According to the USA Today:

  1. Raise the current standards by 2014.
  2. Scrap the 2014 reading and math requirements and replace them with “college readiness” requirements by 2020.
  3. Use subjects other than reading and math in their ratings.
  4. “Value-added” indicators for teachers and schools.
  5. Use indicators other than just test scores in assessing teachers.

These are all great changes to NCLB. The only one I am leery of the teachers unions getting their hands on is the subjective assessments. They could twist this into a means of keeping teachers who are not up to par by subjective means. That needs to be discouraged. The rest of these are great improvements on NCLB that open up the restrictions and bring reality to eduction — it’s not all reading and math.

What they added next though was the real kicker. For schools that are struggling, down in the bottom 5% they would have to take one of the following actions in order to maintain federal funding:

  1. Shut the school down.
  2. Bring in an outside company to manage the school as a charter school.
  3. Fire the entire staff and rehire no more than 50% of them.
  4. Fire the principal and bring in a new one with a transformation plan.

Wow. That’s about all I can say about that, wow. This is absolutely, without a doubt, EXACTLY what is needed to put teeth in NCLB. Right now a struggling school will only get worse; most of the parents will have nowhere else to go, that school will lose federal funds and with less funding it will only get worse. That’s broken. This puts the teeth in NCLB and frees school districts to make the kind of changes they would need to transform a failing school.

You can guarantee the teachers unions will be fighting these provisions tooth and nail in Congress. “Let me be clear” here for a moment if I can steal one of the President’s lines, I have a message for teachers. I have nothing against the rank and file teacher doing everything he or she can to educate our kids. It’s a tough and often thankless job. You get to deal with a slew of parents who just don’t care. However, there’s no legislation on the planet that is going to make them care. This is all that can be done.

The prescription from NCLB right now just gets in the way of a teacher being able to be a teacher. A slew of requirements are put on them, the district office is in their classroom, creating some new set of guidelines for them to follow or the like. Teachers aren’t allowed to innovate and educate. You need to tell your leadership right now that the President’s plan will let you innovate and educate again and stand on your own.

Your leadership is about to barrage you with a mountain of scare tactics and try to get you behind opposition to this plan. You need to stand up to your leadership and tell them no. Have you seen the headlines over the past few weeks? In Illinois we have a complete disaster on our hands and districts are cutting staff left and right. This is what your leadership has gotten you with their hold on power and their refusal to innovate. Many a good teacher is being fired so many a bad teacher that’s been doing it forever can keep his or her job. That’s not right and you need to stand up for it as not right.

I’m sure you can easily count the bad teachers in your building right now. The ones who don’t care, the ones who “phone it in”, the ones you are constantly covering for. Admit it, you know they are there. Are you prepared to lose your job for them? That’s what your leadership will be asking you to do. Under this proposal YOU will be responsible for YOUR own results. If you are doing all that you can it will be seen and measured and you won’t be held responsible for your failing peers. This plan is a plan for good teachers and good teachers should stand up to their national leaders and get behind it.

I’m hopeful this plan can be put into place and it stays as it is outlined. You can rest assured I will be watching it as it comes out, but this is a great start and the first reason for hope and change I’ve seen out of President Obama.  Well done.