July 10, 2015

What Accountability? Education As A Palliative Treatment. Check Out These Guns! And Is The NEA Out Of Step With The Public, Or Just With Charlie Barone? Sara Mead’s Office Smells Like Rich Mahogany!

By Bellwether

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It’s been busy the past few weeks, more fish pics than content. But a lot happening!

In D.C.’s elite education community there is this idea that there is a firewall between guns and schools. In practice there is all kinds of overlap. Students bring firearms in cars to school parking lots during hunting season, schools offer shooting or firearm safety, and as Bloomberg reports trap is a popular sport in some parts of the country.

I don’t agree with everything in this column but this is an astute observation – what she’s getting at is the capacity problem that was minimized at the time:

This was the original sin of ed reform: Ordering all of those tests without anticipating that some schools — due to a lack of creativity or a surplus of fear — would take test prep to extremes.

During the Senate debate on the ESEA – NCLB overhaul bill this week Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) said this:

“I run into people periodically who say to me that you can’t fix it unless you fix poverty. You can’t fix the education system unless you fix poverty. Don’t tell kids in my city who are living in poverty that that is true. Outside of every one of our schools it says “school.” It doesn’t say “orphanage.” It says “school.” We need to make sure every one of those schools is delivering for every kid in our community, no matter where they come from. Otherwise, what is left of us? What is left of this land of opportunity?”

“Before No Child Left Behind existed, we had an impression, a vague sense of the inequities in our educational system. Now we understand how deep they are, how rooted they are, and we have to continue to build on the successes we have seen in high-quality schools working in poor neighborhoods that have actually delivered for kids all over the country.”

More please. Among the other unspoken divides in our debate about school is the one between those who see education as a powerful lever for social mobility and those who frankly see it as a palliative experience for kids.

Charlie Barone says the NEA is out of step with the public. I’m not so sure, they may just be out of step with Charlie and his ilk (I’m one of that ilk). The politics of education are fluid right now and the teachers unions are better at politics than the reformers – at least in the short run. Longer term they’re probably check mated. Great tactics, lousy strategy and all that.

But, something I am more sure of is that two big fallacies around the NCLB /ESEA bill are the idea that NCLB still exists and the idea that we’ve had too much accountability. On the former, NCLB was done the moment Secretary Duncan started issuing waivers. Reasonable people can disagree about whether that’s good or bad but it means Congress is reauthorizing a law that is really no longer operational in practice.

And while there was a lot of talk about accountability in practice NCLB ending up being a compliance law. So I get the compliance fatigue, it’s been messy. But the idea that there has been a lot of “accountability” in the common usage of that term isn’t borne out by the facts of how the law was both written and implemented. Start with the dreaded school turnarounds – most places took the easy non-consequential way out. Senator Bennet is right that NCLB has shined a harsh light. But it’s entirely possible what that light showed scared people as much as spurred them to action…hence the retreat that is on now. The people who really bear the accountability are the kids – there are real stakes for them.

A lot of great NCLB/ESEA content on Ahead of the Heard about the substance and the politics of all this.  And writing in USN Sara Mead says the new Head Start regulations are like this.

Productivity in the D.C. office of Bellwether is about to tank.

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