Top Ten Changes to NCLB….

In the first of a string of posts highlighting the work of our nation’s Teachers of the Year, here is the complete list of ten recommendations recently submitted to Congress for consideration during the reauthorization debate surrounding No Child Left Behind:

10 Changes to NCLB from the Teachers of the Year

1) Fully fund all education and assessment programs that are federally mandated.

2) Allow all states to utilize a growth model for measuring individual student achievement over time.

3) Use multiple methods of assessment to evaluate student learning accurately and report the results to the public.

4) Include language that appropriately addresses the unique needs of students with exceptionalities (disabilities as well as gifts and talents) while continuing to set high standards for all students.

5) Provide assessment information to teachers in a timely manner and professional development in effectively utilizing such information, so that it can inform instruction that will improve teaching and learning.

6) Evaluate current sanctions for failing Adequate Yearly Progress and replace them with proven methods of enhancing achievement.

7) Develop and fund programs that promote meaningful parent and family engagement.

8) Modify assessments and set realistic goals for English Language Learners.

9) Ensure every student is taught by a Highly Effective Teacher who receives ongoing professional development.

10) Include programs for school leadership development that addresses the need for administrators to become instructional leaders who conduct regular classroom observations and provide productive feedback to teachers.

I’ve been mentally wrestling with an interesting question since seeing this list a few weeks back: If we could only guarantee that one of these critical changes would be adopted, which one would you argue in favor of?

Are school leadership development programs the most essential because administrators have so much control over local decision making? Should we concentrate on revising the ways that schools are "measured" by advocating for growth models of student assessment? Does current legislation overlook the very real challenges faced by students with learning disabilites or English Language Learners?

If we wanted to take baby steps—making incremental rather than wholesale changes to NCLB—-where should we begin?

3 thoughts on “Top Ten Changes to NCLB….

  1. Jake Savage

    Interesting post. Unfortunately, I think most of these suggestions are a little vague, though I certainly understand that specificity is hard to achieve in a committee-type setting. Here are my thoughts on the list by number:
    1. Fully funding the legislation isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it’s not actually a change to the law. Still, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to include it.
    2. A growth model is far preferable to a point-in-time assessment that doesn’t measure individual student improvement. Of course, creating the tests and managing the data for this type of measurement is quite a bit more difficult. I’m also not sure that this is related to the specifications of the law itself. I think that the Dept. of Ed. could probably implement it right now without Congressional approval (in fact, I think it is likely under consideration given what some states have requested). Still, this is a good suggestion that is definitely a long-term change I would like to see to NCLB implementation.
    3. Multiple methods of assessment are great, but they are also incredibly expensive and time-consuming. Teachers already suffer the loss of a week or two for testing and prep each year. Do we really want to expand that?
    4. This one sounds good, but I’m not sure what it means in practice. Will gifted students be given harder tests? How expensive is it to develop different assessments for varying levels of ability? How will these assessments be compared across states? Does this line instead mean that we should require a certain percentage of students to achieve higher levels on the current assessments? If so, how do we determine that percentage?
    5. Absolutely. No question. Assessment data should be returned to schools before the beginning of the next school year. In reality, this will make points 3 and 4 harder to achieve, but I think this one is the higher priority. Of course, the federal government doesn’t control the testing companies, so this might make more sense as a state-level initiative during contract negotiation.
    6. People disagree on what “proven methods” should be used, so this one seems a bit difficult. I would have to hear the methods described before I could say whether they would improve on the current options provided by the law.
    7. This one also sounds good, but I think it is difficult to mandate effective programs at the federal level for this sort of thing. That said, the current law has provisions that try to address these types of issues. Which are working and which are not? What other types of programs should be implemented?
    8. Again, is this suggesting a new assessment or a separate standard for the current assessment? What are reasonable expectations for these students?
    9. The current law already mandates highly qualified teachers for every classroom, and most teachers have at least some ongoing professional development. Unfortunately, the current measures of “highly qualified” teachers are entirely based on inputs (e.g. certification, advanced degrees, number of years teaching, etc.), which don’t necessarily translate into effective teaching. I think this point would have been more effective if it looked at different ways to measure effective teachers and how that is tied to how much teachers are paid (though I think that should be a decision made far below the federal level).
    10. Leadership development for administrators is a good idea, though an even better one is finding ways to get good leaders in the first place.
    Overall, I’m somewhat disappointed in the list. When Bill first mentioned that the teachers had developed a list of ten changes, I was excited to hear some suggestions from the ground level, but there’s just not enough specificity here to make the list meaningful.
    Bill, if you have more information on each of these suggestions I would love to see you post it. It’s entirely possible that the group came up with specific proposals for each of the points you’ve listed and that you haven’t included them yet for the sake of brevity. If that’s the case, I’d gladly take back my complaint of vagueness and look at the details of each proposal.
    To answer your question about priorities, I think that numbers 2 and 5 are at the top, with number 2 being the one that has a better chance of being accomplished at the federal level, giving states explicit permission to use growth or value-added models to measure student performance and thereby improving the relevance of the test data.

  2. Jake Savage

    Mike,
    I very much agree with your main point. The last thing we need is to centralize control over classroom instruction and school innovation at the federal level. In fact, as you know, I favor very decentralized control of education that places power in the hands of those closest to the students being served.
    On your final point, however, I think you’re missing two important aspects of state assessments:
    1. State assessments do provide you with information you would not otherwise have available: how well your school’s students perform relative to students at other schools.
    2. State assessments are primarily intended to inform the public, not the school itself. Standardized tests are a way (albeit imperfect) of comparing one school to another without relying solely on self-reported data.

  3. Mike

    Just a brief post on this one Bill (I’m a bit busy with end of the year issues). If each and every one of these was implemented, we’d be more snowed under with federal mandates and control than we are now. The federal government has no business whatever raining down mandates on local school districts. Can anyone in their right mind imagine that the involvement of the feds will be helpful?
    If NCLB and all federal education mandates went away, magically, immediately, what would be the effect on the classroom teacher in Anywhere, USA? At worse, nothing; at best, things would become easier.
    If federal intervention remains or expands, who can sanely argue that things would be better for classroom teachers?
    Just one final point. If I’m such an incompetent that federally generated “assessment information” tells me anything at all about any of my students that I don’t already know and know more completely through my daily interaction with them, then I have a problem that no federal intervention can help. If I was actually breathlessly waiting for state or federal assessment data to tell me if I was a successful teacher, I’d expect my principal to immediately encourage me to seek gainful employment in motel management.

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