February 23, 2009

A New Day for School Reform - NYT Editorial

Below is an editorial from Saturday's New York Times. With everything else floating around about the stimulus plan, this is a take on how the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, could be altering No Child Left Behind and other educational initiatives.

A New Day for School Reform
Published: February 21, 2009

Congress took a potentially transformative step when it devoted $100 billion in the stimulus package to education. Carefully targeted, this money could revive the reform efforts that began promisingly with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 — but later languished when his administration buckled under to political pressures from state officials.

Arne Duncan, the new education secretary, will need to resist those pressures. The Bush administration allowed states to phony-up statistics on everything from graduation rates to student achievement to teacher training and state education standards. As a result, the country has yet to reach not only the goals that were clearly laid out in the law but also farsighted education reforms dating to the mid-1990s.

The stimulus package, including a $54 billion “stabilization” fund to protect schools against layoffs and budget cuts, is rightly framed to encourage compliance. States will need to create data collection systems that should ideally show how children perform year to year as well as how teachers affect student performance over time. States will also be required to improve academic standards as well as the notoriously weak tests now used to measure achievement — replacing, for instance, the pervasive fill-in-the-bubble tests with advanced assessments that better measure writing and thinking.

The No Child Left Behind law required the states to place “highly qualified teachers” in every classroom. But federal officials allowed states to game the system, which led inevitably to fakery. This time around, states that want federal money will rightly be required to improve teacher effectiveness and to end the odious practice of dumping the least qualified teachers into the neediest schools.

Mr. Duncan has also been given authority over a $5 billion grant program called the “Race to the Top Fund,” designed to encourage innovation. The secretary can set a new tone by rewarding states that work hard for reform and bypassing states that do not.

The bottom line is that the stimulus package has given the country a real chance to resuscitate school reform. Mr. Duncan will need to stay the course despite the pressures that will inevitably come from states that have resisted reform all along.

Source: The New York Times

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