Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rethinking NCLB

This sounds pretty good to me. Monty Neill:

In addition to pushing for more funding, educators, civil rights groups, parents and communities must unite on a few key principles for structuring the version of ESEA that will replace NCLB. To further that discussion, here are some brief proposals.

First, a new law would establish that the primary purpose of federal funding is to facilitate school improvement. This would replace test-based accountability as the primary approach, though accountability for improvement processes and ultimately for results would be part of the structure.

Second, the law would recognize that the heart of improvement is school-based collaboration among educators to build their capacity to serve all children well. Thus, a significant share of Title I funds, particularly for schoolwide programs, would be allocated to pay for time for educators to work together on curriculum, instruction, assessment, evaluating student needs and how to meet them, and related core activities. That is, federal funds would be used to help schools become communities of learners, both adults and students. A portion of those funds could be used by the local educators to employ outside expertise.

Third, Title I funding would be used to strengthen the capacity of districts and states to assist schools, which should be their main function. These higher administrative levels often have imposed requirements, monitored compliance, and engaged in forms of centralized control over teaching and learning that are counterproductive. Even if they try to provide useful support, they tend not to have the resources to do very much. This must change. Much of this assistance might be to encourage more successful schools helping less successful neighbors serving similar populations, as Designs for Change has proposed for Chicago.

Fourth, the federal government would fund a series of ancillary activities all aimed at supporting this core approach. That can include developing new curricula or assessments, creating banks of useful performance assessment tasks, and developing opportunity-to-learn indexes that reveal the degree of equity in key components of learning (faculty, libraries, buildings, technology) and in the communities that schools serve.

Fifth, the federal government would support more extensive research. For example, it could fund a new version of NAEP that would rely entirely on extended performance tasks to indicate whether students had learned and are able to apply key concepts in core subjects.

Lastly, a new law would restructure accountability. Title I schools should be expected to develop, implement, evaluate, and revise improvement plans. Inability to implement such plans, or inability to make reasonable progress (given inputs and assistance) as indicated by multiple forms of evidence of student learning, should lead to stronger interventions.

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