What to do about NCLB?

July 12, 2007

My feelings about NCLB are quite complicated, because I’ve seen some of its benefits and harms first hand. I just got around to reading a Nation piece from May, which remains timely. The authors are critical of the law, but for the most part want to retain (while improving on) some of its core features.

Linda Darling-Hammond says, and I’ve seen how this happens,

Perhaps the most adverse unintended consequence of NCLB is that it creates incentives for schools to rid themselves of students who are not doing well, producing higher scores at the expense of vulnerable students’ education.

The impact is most severe on mission-driven charter schools. It is getting harder and harder to convince people to start schools serving the neediest students. It is one of the reasons you hear about so few great charter high schools. Nobody wants to start a school serving kids who arrive in the 9th grade 3 or 4 years behind.

And she has this proposal, which seems like a great one. I hope the Obama campaign takes it up; he could add merit and performance pay as his fourth prong, in line with his speech at the NEA convention.

A Marshall Plan for Teaching could insure that all students are taught by well-qualified teachers within the next five years through a federal policy that (1) recruits new teachers using service scholarships that underwrite their preparation for high-need fields and locations and adds incentives for expert veteran teachers to teach in high-need schools; (2) strengthens teachers’ preparation through support for professional development schools, like teaching hospitals, which offer top-quality urban teacher residencies to candidates who will stay in high-need districts; and (3) improves teacher retention and effectiveness by insuring that novices have mentoring support during their early years, when 30 percent of them drop out.

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