Duncan needs a big lever to close 5000 bad schools

Edu-curmudgeon Diane Ravitch wants to kill NCLB and go back to local control.  Most folks working in education would agree with her EdWeek commentary—just throw out measurement and accountability, at least the federal mandates. 

Dr. Ravitch and I agree that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (what Bush called No Child Left Behind) didn’t work as well as hoped.  And the fact that it hasn’t been tweaked a couple times since 2001 increases the need for major surgery instead of a nip and a tuck. 

Here’s the basic logic chain that led most education reform advocacy groups and a congressional majority to support NCLB:

1.     States and districts aren’t working aggressively to close the achievement gap or deal with chronic school failure

2.     Frequent measurement is key to improvement

3.     Disaggregated data forces us to consider how well we serve low income and minority children

4.     States should be required to implement progressive intervention to improve or replace failing schools

5.     States can decide what students should know and be able to do

6.     Focus first on gateway subjects—English and math

There are several problems with the way this logic chain was translated into legislation—top of the list would be the built in incentive to dumb-down state standards.   We could also be more thoughtful about testing (see my June 2 post).

The fact that it didn’t work as well as hoped means we should fix it, not throw it out.  The key elements of logic chain remain critical: we urgently need to improve or replace failing schools and we need data to drive the process. 

The “ya’ll go back to doing your own thing” approach is certainly popular with employee groups and some conservatives but that offers little hope for equity or excellence.

The White House has given Secretary Duncan a long leash on accountability—he has been outspoken about the need to close and replace at least the worst 5% of American schools.  He’ll need a bigger and more effective federal lever to see that through.  The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act should include that lever.  

(first appeared on HuffPost)

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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