Let’s end collateral damage from federal good intentions

If you haven’t seen it yet, this article in NYT is an absolute MUST read. It is a story that is being repeated (unnecessarily) all across the country. Here’s an excerpt:

On Education – A Popular Principal, Wounded by Good Intentions – NYTimes.com.

Ms. Irvine wasn’t removed by anyone who had seen her work (often 80-hour weeks) at a school where 37 of 39 fifth graders were either refugees or special-ed children and where, much to Mr. Mudasigana’s delight, his daughter Evangeline learned to play the violin.

Ms. Irvine was removed because the Burlington School District wanted to qualify for up to $3 million in federal stimulus money for its dozen schools.

And under the Obama administration rules, for a district to qualify, schools with very low test scores, like Wheeler, must do one of the following: close down; be replaced by a charter (Vermont does not have charters); remove the principal and half the staff; or remove the principal and transform the school.

Administrators and teachers who have been working, often at great personal cost, in high needs schools with our most challenged students should not be sacrificed on the altar of federal assistance. The long-term loss to students and the community is actually greater than what will be gained by the temporary grant aid the state and districts are pursuing.

For those familiar with the history of American education, this scenario bears a troubling resemblance to what became known as the “massive resistance” strategy used across the South to undermine both the 1954 Brown decision and the initial implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, particularly the Title I provisions. In the name of bringing schools into compliance with federal guidelines, countless black teachers and administrators–many of whom had been instrumental in the struggle for equality–were removed.  Sadly, the federal government turned its head while these abuses were carried out in its name. This painful lesson from history does not need to be repeated.

The Administration needs to pay closer attention to the weaknesses in its education reform plans, and listen to the thousands of voices urging them to change some of the policies, such as the ineffective turnaround strategies and the high stakes penalties attached to flawed testing data before more damage is done.

For more information and ideas on what teachers, parents, students and others can do to help visit: Teachers Letters To Obama on Facebook.