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April (usually) is the Cruelest Month …

…but not this year. June may well take that prize.

For educators the first week in June begins the dash to the finish line. Usually this is a time of frenetic resolve to get things done in a timely fashion accompanied by a host of emotions as yet another school winds down. This has been no ordinary year and yesterday, the Connecticut legislature added to the uncertainty by ending their legislative session without a budget agreement. Hundreds of teachers will leave their schools with their careers in jeopardy in spite of the dramatic infusion of federal stimulus monies. Many veteran teachers have faced times of economic turmoil in the past and know the devastating impact they can have on the life of a school. Although I am far back from the front lines these days, After forty years of experience as an educator and advocate, I still feel the pain.

In the realm of education policy, there are additional layers of uncertainty which for understandable reasons are not high on the immediate concerns of teachers, but nonetheless will have great impact on their future and that of their students. Of most significance is the reality that the Bush-era version of education reform – No Child Left Behind – remains the law of the land. Since Arne Duncan left the Chicago Public Schools and assumed the mantle of Secretary of Education, we have spent several months trying to scope out his intentions. And I must admit that the picture that emerges is still in soft focus and this should give us pause as we approach the inevitable reauthorization of the law that has had such a deep and mostly negative impact on America’s schools. While teachers struggle with issues on the ground of great urgency, I can assure you the policy wonks are working full bore to influence the direction of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). (It is once again acceptable to refer to the law by its actual title)

In earlier posts on Learning is More Than A Test Score, I noted the Recurrent areas of emphasis when Secretary Duncan speaks and testifies. He frequently talks about the woeful disconnect in many states between results on state tests when compared to NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). Through the bully pulpit alone, he has enerrgized the movement toward national standards, a movement which admittedly was already gaining some headway mostly under the auspices of the National Governors Association. NGA has been joined by the Council of Chief State School Officers and late last week they announced that currently 46 states have formally joined the initiative. The four holdout states currently are Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas, but none of them seems firmly opposed to the effort. (see Ed Week).

The secretary almost always talks about teacher quality and effectiveness, rewarding outstanding teachers and more aggressively dealing with under performing teachers. (You can hear the latest version of the Duncan stump speech delivered at the National Press Club or read excerpts at the Department of Education website, www.ed.gov .) On June 1, the New Teacher Project released a report called, “The Widget Effect – Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness”. This is a report which will have great appeal to politicians, policymakers, and the media. The study was conducted in 12 districts in four states – Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Ohio. The findings are based on survey responses from approximately 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators. Without going into great detail, the findings in shorthand are that: All teachers are rated good or great, Excellence goes unrecognized, Inadequate professional development, No special attention is paid to novices, and Poor performance goes unaddressed. The numbers are dramatic and you can read them here (www.widgeteffect.org), but I can assure you these numbers will find there way into the center of the teacher effectiveness/rewards/compensation debate.

These are just a few examples that point to the need to closely follow the relatively small number of influential actors waiting in the wings to leave their mark on the next iteration of the law. We ignore them at our own peril. So I am happy that my good friends and former colleagues at CEA have asked me to occasionally post on this great looking new blog. I hope that many of you will join the conversation.

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