NCLB Potential Amendments Can Destabilize Public Education

The New York Times’ Editorial Board published an opinion on Congress’ coming review of bills that aim to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also know as the No Child Left Behind Act. The article notes a couple of items of interest to me.

First, it acknowledges that NCLB has it’s drawbacks, however, the Act should not be amended altogether, but rather adjusted for its shortcomings. Particularly, the Act, as it is now, arguably mislabels schools, which causes stress on teachers, administration, parents and students:

“This provision failed to adequately distinguish between chronically failing schools and otherwise good schools that missed improvement targets for particular subgroups, like special needs children. As a result, as many as half the schools in some states were listed as needing improvement, seen by the public as “failing,” which mystified educators and parents, and generated a predictable political backlash.”

This part of the Act instills unnecessary insecurity in schools, students, parents and teachers that are more than the labels suggest. It makes students and teachers doubt what they’ve accomplished and undermined actual achievements. I understand why general labels are used to indicate a school’s academic performances. But rather than broadly labeling schools, a system where broad labels and short and specific labels are combined could be a sufficient remedy. Or, perhaps, a two score system where there is a overall grade and a grade that highlights the strongest need of improvement section. I do acknowledge how this can cause confusion, but I also think that it is absolutely necessary to try and provide more context to the present labeling system because education is so complex.

Furthermore, NCLB requires testing children once a year in grades 3-12. The testing has created a frenzy of constant preparation and rote education. Clearly, this environment takes away the creativity of education and allows people to see testing as a value of education, rather than a component.

One bill’s remedy to this, according to the Editorial Board, is to relinquish the state of its mandatory obligation to involve itself it into failing (or otherwise) schools. This takes a way the mandatory yearly testing on both a national and state level. This proposed bill would allow districts and cities the opportunity o make up their own grading and evaluation systems without consideration for what other schools, districts and cities are doing.

The board notes, and I agree, that this free flow of teaching with such a large public school systems, such as New York City, allows for less understanding of how peers across the board are performing and provides parents with an uncentralized basis on how their children are performing.

What I think the Board should have emphasized is the chaos individual district/city grading and evaluations would create. School districts would attempt to create their own systems, one that seemingly fits the district’s needs. I acknowledge the value in this. The current system is too broad and isn’t the best fits for a lot of schools. But I also recognize that practice can be very different from theory and when the two oppose each other, correcting it may be difficult to achieve, primarily because the type of system has either never been done before, doesn’t have an immediate or transparent fix or has nothing to compare it against.

Leaving the state out and removing centralized education also destabilizes the education system and introduces us to a world where educational factors are forever changing and uniformity becomes less of a factor. Comparing apples to oranges, pears to grapes, carrots to brussel spouts will make understanding quality education across the board, even on regional or demographically similar level, much more difficult.

In Re Smarter Charters

Educational Leadership published an excerpt from Halley Potter and Rick Kahlenberg’s book”Smarter Charters.” The piece compares  two distinct topics: the charter school world as envisioned by former American Federation of Teachers’ president Albert Shanker in 1988 when the concept was first introduced to the United States, and the reality of the charter schools’ world, nearly thirty years later.

Charter schools are typically herald for their ability to go beyond the bureaucracy of public schools. The idea, for Shankner, was to have schools that were funded by the government but operated as a private school. This setup would allow students from socioeconomic disadvantage backgrounds an opportunity to receive a level of specialized education that is tailored for career success.

Potter and Kahlenberg believe that charter schools today have gotten it wrong. The schools now are focusing more on competition than collaboration and merit than diversity and uniqueness. I think that they have hit the nail on the head, as charter schools, while positioned as more flexible in policy, do not take advantage of this liberty. One of the key points that Potter and Kahlenberg point out is the role of the teacher in charter schools.

Teachers have the ability to have more of a say on how charter schools function. According to the Center for Education Reform, only 7% of charters schools are unionized. I find this number to be quite remarkable, as unionzed provide teachers with the career security that teaching in very complex and challenging field requires.

Furthermore, the lack of unionization may also be connected to why teacher turnover rate is twice as high at charter schools than public schools. One study shows that high turnover rates have been correlated to low test scores.

Having studied in public schools from K-12 in New York City, where there has been a debate on charter schools v. public schools, I find it particularly refreshing to read more about the pitfalls of charter schools. Not because I am against, but because i want to understand more of the actual inner workings of the present state and not the concept of charter schools. I think it is easy to fall in love with the idea of what charter schools can achieve because the possibility is there. But that is a huge difference from what is happening. Understanding the downside and issues of both education models, is the first step to understanding how we can get them to work together, like YES Prep and neighboring schools in Texas, in such a way that both systems prevail.