Tuesday, March 23, 2004

'Hire ed'

When I first saw the byline to this Washington Monthly article, I thought at first it was a joke or at least a major snark attack:
    The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats
No joke. What's scary is that these guys are serious. They mean it: hire more people like them to run educational programs, increase the educational bureaucracy, and ta-daa, save NCLB.

Consider this: they hail from the National Center on Education and Economy (NCEE), a nonprofit that supports standards based educational reform. A quick look at their support includes: (oh-ho, look who's here) the Walton family foundation and Fordham Foundation (see policy forum sponsors). These are two biggies actively involved in supporting anti-public educational endeavors.

With this angle, this long and very confusing (to me) article on fixing NCLB with more layers of bureaucracy makes more sense. I admit I'm still largely confused about the purpose of this article. I do agree with their short term fix. The high-stakes testing part just has to go.
    First, we need a short-term fix. The rules governing the calculation of sanctions on schools not making the grade should be changed so that the states are required to provide assistance only to the schools that need that help the most. States shouldn't drown in an attempt to intervene in a vast number of schools, many of which have missed the present requirements by inches rather than miles. These new rules should be structured in a way that removes perverse incentives to lower standards. States that have set their standards very low in the attempt to avoid sanctions should be required to address the needs of roughly the same proportion of all their schools as states that have maintained high standards.
But I am appalled at their long term fix.
    Second, we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding people with the data management experience to build and administer the very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting still others who can take those schools over if the current staff cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill, experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort: state departments of education.
No. Building a new bureaucracy is not the long term solution. And saving NCLB is not the point: the point is to fix the public educational system not with zero-tolerance testing but with reasonable and locally based standards that doesn't pull money away from arts, music, other important things in a child's education. I do agree that standards are important but not if the apparatus overseeing standards is a malignant thing grows like a cancer and chokes public education until it's dead.