Leaving Politicking Behind
by R. Jones

January 1, 2003

Michael Casserly, writer for "Education Week," wrote concerning the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, that "the press is reveling in the thought of having an endless stream of stories about how everyone is out of compliance with one provision or another."

He couldn't be more right.

The fang-toothed press drools with sanctified righteousness and sonorously proclaim "'No Child Left Behind' a misnomer? "U.S. policy might alienate disabled." They leap over one another to describe how educators are applying the Act, thus lighting their ways to dusty death. One newspaper reported a coordinator of elementary special education programs in one public school system calling the legislation's goals unrealistic and harmful.

"For children with lower cognitive abilities, you're setting those kids up for failure," The special education coordinator said. "Every child needs to feel they are successful, and that's one of the underlying tenants [sic] of testing the child at their level."

Stretch goals must not have ever been a part of that educator's life.

What is at issue here isn't really that mentally challenged students will feel unsuccessful. What is at issue here is, truly, that educators are being made to be accountable. They misread the tenets of the Act, and misapply them, then throw their hands up in defeat when their ham-handed techniques appear doomed to failure. Lost is the resolve to actually educate children. It's no longer about children, you see. For too many educators, it is about them.

Yet, not all. Not all educators are flailing about in fright. Enter the cavalry, in the form of The Council of the Great City Schools, who have undertaken to study schools that have seen success, and make recommendations for all school systems on ways to follow suit.

The reforms among those schools that showed this rapid success path were fairly similar, and each of them can be nailed down to holding the school accountable for the success of the student. They acted globally, requiring each district to take a system wide, comprehensive approach to reform, which ensured that all schools succeeded, and not merely the few. The global approach reduced the amount of political maneuvering that is often found at lower levels. It reversed the slowed cogs of stymied decision making. It spread successes across a broader spectrum, and minimized failures by being able to act quickly to reverse poor policy.

By focusing on the district, they were able to set measurable goals for themselves. District leaders and school staffs were personally responsible for the results -- in one school district board members signed a pledge to resign if they could not raise achievement.

The successful school systems implemented district-wide curricula that accommodated all students. By tightening and focusing, they were able to apply the strongest resources to the weakest spots, rather than spreading thin the already overworked staff across multiple and failing programs. Furthermore, with common curricula, students that moved about within the states that implemented these reforms would not suffer from having to adjust to the wide variations. It became easier to mentor and train the less experienced teachers.

Finally, and most tellingly, the successful districts implemented regular testing and used the detailed results to measure progress, to diagnose weaknesses, and to intervene as problems arose. This is a change from the way most school districts operate, in that most schools test at the end of the year, when it is too late to implement changes.

The job for educators is to educate. They don't educate when all they do is fret --vocally and for the circus of the media -- about their accountability. They need to get on with their primary business.

©2002 The Tocquevillian Magazine