ESEA Redux

The Obama administration fired its first shot – of what I can only assume will be many – on ESEA reauthorization with the Sam Dillon piece in this morning’s NYTimes.  If you follow the contours of the education reform debates, there’s not much in this article that will shock you, although the speculation that RtTT would be the platonic ideal against which reauthorization is measured is confirmed here.  There’s also an embedded mini-scoop on the new target for college readiness.

We’ll get a lot more information about the administration’s direction when the details of the 2011 budget come out later today, but I wanted to make a few observations before the interwebs get flooded with commentary:

1) Obama and Duncan have to walk a rhetorical tightrope as they look to distance themselves from the toxic brand that is NCLB.  While it’s easy to dismiss “Highly Qualified Teachers” (HQT)  and “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) as imperfect measures, it’s important to make sure that “accountability” doesn’t become collateral damage in the effort to toss off the old measuring sticks.  Every time Duncan talks I hope we hear something like, “We must retain strong, objective, quantitative measures of effectiveness, even as we move away from NCLB’s discrete metrics.”  Speaking of effectiveness …

2) The biggest battle here will be over teacher effectiveness, and how outputs supplant inputs as the way to assess teacher quality.  NCLB’s HQT provisions were entirely input based, and with the AFT’s recent shift, it’s clear that there is an emerging consensus that student outcomes matter.*  Thank goodness for that.  The devil is in the details … be sure to watch how the administration and the teachers unions posture and talk about teacher effectiveness in the coming weeks.

3) Democratic politics have changed since NCLB was signed in 2001, and you are now much more likely to find mainstream Democrats embracing accountability, meritocratic compensation of teachers, and charter schools.  This is a very good thing, especially since Ted Kennedy played such an intense role in selling the unpopular – yet important! – parts of NCLB to the more liberal Dems.  His voice certainly will be missed in this process, although his leadership helped move the party on critical issues.  There certainly wasn’t anything like DFER when NCLB was passed, for example.  George Miller will still quarterback in the House, and he’s great on reform.

4) One final thing to watch is the shifting narrative over what is the critical unit of change in education reform.  NCLB – with its laser focus on AYP – placed the school in that position.  Given RtTT’s high point awards for increasing teacher effectiveness, it’s probably not out of bounds to suggest that the classroom will become a more important unit of change in the new formulation.  That’s a good thing, but it’s important not to forget the schools and the systems.  Bad schools will still chew-up and spit-out good individuals, and toxic organizational cultures are more powerful than any of the individuals that inhabit them.  For an education take on this, reread our 2007 report The Turnaround Challenge.  For a pop-culture critique, read any interview with David Simon, creator of The Wire (and sage of postmodern institutional decay).

*Tried to get more acronyms in that sentence … couldn’t.

2 Responses to ESEA Redux

  1. I’m feeling better because this time you didn’t seem to reverting back to the data-driven accountability mantra. I’ve been concerned because I’ve always believed that two of the three best sources for understanding inner city schools (with Balfanz who of course was a personality in the Wire) are The Turnaround Challenge and The Wire. The Wire not only documents the inevitable harm of the data-driven culture in schools it documents its inherent destructiveness. As it explains, the data-driven mentality in the drug war was crucial in filling our prisons, thus worsening the problems of urban America. Among other things, The Wire is the best single documentation for R. Rothstein’s and R. Elmore’s and R. Price’s wisdom, which I forgot to count as also tied for first in practical insight.

    But for the life of me, I haven’t been able to reconcile the wisdom of The Turnaround Challenge with the tone of your recent comments. When you left your previous shop, I’m hoping, you left behind the reductionsistic mindset that The Turnaround Challenge repudiates.

    At any rate, I’m going to be awfully curious how this all turns out. Yes, the devil is in the details. And as I will explore further tommorrow in thisweekineducation, if RttT growth models are used to drive evaluations, we’ll be in a legal Battle of Verdun. (When I read The Turnaround Challenge, I had no doubt which side Mass Insight would be wrong; either I was dead wrong or your tone has changed in a worrisome way). But if those growth models are in the hands of peer review committees, then we could be on a great adventure together. (Gates words in this Edweek are again making me hopeful)

    Yes, bad schools chew up and spit out good young teachers. Clearly, The Turnaround Challenge listened to the wisdom of teachers. I sure hope that attitude hasn’t been changing.

  2. Pingback: Progress Ohio | Dave Harding's Blog: Key Facts On The Obama … | Educational Ohio

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