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Reauthorization at the Starting Line

On September 24, the U.S. Department of Education held the first of a series of stakeholder meetings to gather input on the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The entire session is available for viewing on YouTube, and transcripts are available on the department’s website,  I sat through the entire replay of the 1 1/2 hour meeting and heard little new except to say that you may want to hear Secretary Duncan’s opening comments (about 20 minutes).

The speech focuses on education as the greatest civil rights challenge of our time and draws upon Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as its text. Few would disagree with the challenge cited by the secretary, but I would like to believe that if Dr. King were alive today he would also be talking about the squalid conditions into which too many of America’s children are born, the resegregation of America’s schools, and the continuing violence of the inner city. He would probably say that closing the achievement gap alone is not enough, and that standardized tests cannot measure the quality of our lives beyond the schoolhouse door.

The day before the meeting  a marked up version of the final draft of Arne Duncan’s speech was made available on the internet through Ed Week’s K-12 Politics Blog.  The following statement was crossed out: And while existing state tests are not the ideal measures of student achievement they are the best we have at the moment. Instead, it goes on to say, “Until states develop better assessments – which we will support and fund through Race to the Top – we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress – but this is important area for reform and an important conversation to have. Another interesting deletion is the criticism that “the law [NCLB] was underfunded” – perhaps a nod to the fact that Pontiac vs. Spellings is still wending its way through the courts and could become Pontiac vs. Duncan. This is the suit alleging that NCLB represents an unfunded mandate.

Secretary Duncan calls upon all of us to participate in the building of a “transformative education law” and calls for an end to “the culture of blame, self-interest and disrespect that has demeaned the field of education.”

Let us build an education law that is worthy of  a great nation – a law that our children and their children will point to as a decisive moment in America’s history – a law that inspires a new generation of young people to go into teaching – and inspires all America to shoulder responsibility for building a new foundation of growth and possibility.

Hear, hear! Perhaps we could begin in Hawaii, where my youngest son teaches. Last week Governor Lingle agreed to impose 17 furlough days on teachers – half the 34 days she wanted – and consequently Hawaii’s students will receive 17 less days of instruction this year.

I digress. There is no question that this is the beginning of a process, and we should avail ourselves of every opportunity to express our thoughts. You can start by communicating them via email at this special address:

The Obama administration is promising an open process and we should take them at their word. Congress is another matter, and in late 2001 the doors were closed and a deal was done. We should not allow that to happen again. I mentioned last week that Senator Harkin will be chairing the Senate education committee. Most recently, it was announced that Senator Kennedy’s seat on the committee will be filled by Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO), former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools and strong supporter of alternative forms of teacher pay (AKA merit pay) and charter schools. Bennet is also highly regarded by Democrats for Education Reform, an influential group supporting merit pay, school choice, charter schools, and national standards.

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