Reforming NCLB Requires Flexibility and Accountability

Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is four years overdue. In March of 2010, the Administration unveiled its Blueprint for Reform. Since then we’ve worked on a bipartisan basis to craft a comprehensive reform bill that would help give our children the world-class education they need and deserve.  Today marks an important step forward.

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Mike Enzi — Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — introduced a bipartisan bill to officially overhaul NCLB.  I deeply appreciate the efforts of Senators Harkin and Enzi to build in more flexibility for states and districts, and focus on the goal of building a world-class education system that prepares all students for college and careers.   Increased flexibility at the state and local level is consistent with the administration’s policy on waivers and our Blueprint for Reform.

However, it is equally important that we maintain a strong commitment to accountability for the success of all students, and I am concerned that the Senate bill does not go far enough.  Parents, teachers, and state leaders across the country understand that in order to prepare all of our young people to compete in the global economy, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable at every level of the education system– from the classroom to the school district, from the states to the federal government.  In addition, I am concerned the Senate bill lacks a comprehensive evaluation and support system to guide teachers and principals in continuing to improve their practice.

America cannot retreat from reform.  We must ensure that every classroom in every school is a place of high expectations and high performance.  The fact that we have a bipartisan bill in the Senate is an important and positive development, but it’s only a beginning.  I look forward to working with Congress in the weeks and months ahead to advance this bipartisan effort, address these and other concerns and build a world-class education system that strengthens America’s economy and secures America’s future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Teacher Makes a Personal Case for NCLB Waivers

I would like President Obama to meet one of my former students, Rashawn*.

Rashawn was a fifth grader, an African-American boy with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In my classroom he received a bevy of services relating to his learning and academic disabilities, and yet he struggled mightily with reading and math.

Rashawn came from a tough section of the district and lived well below the poverty line in a broken home. He father was incarcerated. He had dreams of playing in the NBA. His smile set him apart, and he was a hard worker, a talker, and a thinker.

Rashawn entered my class in 2008, shortly before the nation elected Barack Obama to be president. He was far behind his peers academically, but he worked hard. Working as a team, a special educator and I provided Rashawn with rigorous instruction, and we set high expectations. We wanted him to succeed, and he wanted to succeed.  From the beginning of the year to the end, Rashawn made significant academic progress.

But none of that mattered, under the accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB). Although he showed academic growth, Rashawn scored as “basic” on Maryland’s tests. According to the statisticians and policymakers, that was a disappointment. As his teacher, NCLB noted that I had failed Rashawn. When my results were printed, he would appear as nothing more than a name and an ID number awash in pink printer ink.

Rashawn is a perfect example of why teachers are crying out for NCLB to be overhauled. NCLB ushered in an era where we no longer ignore children on the periphery. Now, every student counts. That’s one thing NCLB got right.

Greg Mullenholz

Greg Mullenholz

Unfortunately, the NCLB accountability system fails students like Rashawn because it measures only one piece of data at one point in time. We need an accountability system that acknowledges growth and looks upon every student as an asset, not a deficit. We need our country to measure and reward the growth of our students, not just mark where they place on an arbitrary bar.

I would like President Obama to meet Rashawn. It seems that he had the Rashawns of the world in mind when he granted Secretary Duncan the authority to issue waivers for some areas of NCLB. The President still insists on a high bar for all children, but he gets it that what Rashawn has achieved transcends what is indicated by a single-measure on a poorly-designed bubble test.

I am thankful that with waivers, states won’t be given a pass on maintaining high expectations for all students, and they surely won’t be allowed to toss aside teacher accountability. Our students need schools with high expectations, and states will have to adopt college- and career-ready standards. But they will also be given the chance to innovate and design plans that meet the needs of their unique populations of students. And they will be allowed to use multiple measures of teaching effectiveness, so that teaching competence will no longer be boiled down to a solitary line of printer ink.

I haven’t seen Rashawn in a few years. I hope that he aspires to attend and complete college and to play basketball while he’s there. I dream about him earning a teaching degree and joining me as a colleague. Fixing NCLB would be one way to support all of the Rashawns in the classrooms throughout this great country. Something even better, I think, than meeting the President.

Greg Mullenholz

Greg Mullenholz is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Rockville, Md. 

*My student’s name has been changed to protect his anonymity.