In an article published on May 2, the weekly magazine The Nation invited education research and policy expert Linda Darling-Hammond to examine the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act and to reflect on its consequences and prospects for improvement. Darling-Hammond’s incisive and insightful review includes a closing section subtitled ‘How to (Really) Leave No Child Behind,’ in which she says, in part:

There are hundreds of proposals for tweaking NCLB, but a substantial paradigm shift is required if our education system is to support powerful learning for all students…

How might this be done? A new paradigm for national education policy should be guided by dual commitments to support meaningful learning on the part of students, teachers and schools; and to pay off the educational debt, making it possible for all students to benefit from more productive schools.

A new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) should start by helping states develop world-class standards, curriculums and assessments and to use them for improving teaching. Returning to the more productive approach of President Clinton’s Goals 2000 initiative, the federal government should assist states in developing systems for evaluating student progress that are performance based—including assessments like essays, research papers and science experiments that are embedded in the curriculum and scored by teachers using common criteria—leveraging intellectually ambitious learning and providing information that continuously improves teaching.

School progress should also be measured in a more comprehensive manner—including such factors as student progress and continuation, graduation and classroom performance on tasks beyond multiple-choice tests—and gains should be assessed by how individual students improve over time. To eliminate the statistical gauntlet that penalizes schools serving the most diverse populations, the AYP system should be replaced with a continuous improvement model….

You’ll find many more of Darling-Hammond’s ideas — including an explanation of her reference to the “educational debt that has accumulated over centuries of denied access to education and employment” to create a huge barricade to school improvement — in the Nation article, which is publicly available at the magazine’s website. You’ll also find responses by sociologist and author Pedro Noguera, longtime educator and National Urban League vice president Velma L. Cobb and senior NYU scholar and veteran school principal Deborah Meier.

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