NCLB: Views from the nation’s best teachers

A new paper published by the Center for Teaching Quality, The Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: Views from the Nation’s Best Teachers, distills the opinions of a cross-section of accomplished educators in the Teacher Leaders Network. The paper draws on ideas and insights expressed during a recent four-day email conversation between PBS education reporter John Merrow and 20 TLN members.

Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality and author of the paper, writes that:

From these teachers’ first-hand knowledge emerged nuanced discussions about the value of NCLB, especially regarding its focus on underserved students and evidence of who is making progress and who is not. However, these expert teachers also raised ethical issues worthy of serious reflection by policymakers including:

• the quality and misuse of standardized tests;

• the inadequacy of current data systems; and

• misguided measures of the “highly qualified” teacher.

This report exposes both the potential for No Child Left Behind to better serve this nation’s students and the fundamental weaknesses that currently prevent the law from fully realizing its stated aims. Whether readers find themselves nodding in agreement or raising objections, these views from some of the nation’s best educators are a crucial tool for not only refining NCLB, but also assuring that all teachers have the skills, knowledge, and support they need to guide students toward 21st Century success.

During the conversation with Merrow, Michelle Ivy, a nationally certified high school educator in Miami Beach who holds both a doctorate degree and a law degree, challenged the opinion put forth by some policy pundits that teachers are criticizing No Child Left Behind because they fear accountability. Ivy told Merrow that teachers “are willing to be accountable and we are,” but teachers want to be judged on their ability to impact students’ long-term academic development in the context of individual learning needs. NCLB’s accountability metrics, Ivy and other TLN participants said, fail to take into account the exceptional diversity in students’ preparation levels and the daily challenges that diversity creates for teachers working to meet the individual needs of each student.

The TLN focus group also questioned whether the NCLB accountability system is actually retarding the progress of American public schools in addressing the skills and predispositions necessary for success in the new millennium. Berry writes:

The Teacher Leaders Network members were quick to point out what their state accountability tests measured and what they did not. They agreed that the tests now being used in annual state assessments generally failed to address certain critical skills and know-how that students will need to master for success in the 21st Century. So long as these “backward looking” state assessments shape curriculum and drive instruction, they said, schools will be hard-pressed to address the learning needs identified by blue-ribbon groups like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Drawing on the insights of the expert teachers who participated in the Merrow discussion, Berry offers four recommendations that can help the federal government “make good on NCLB and its lofty goal to leave no child behind.” First and foremost, Berry says,

To create world-class standards and assessments, states must draw deeply on the advice of a large and diverse sample of successful teachers. These teachers want to see many of the billions of dollars currently spent on standardized tests reallocated so that students can be judged systematically on how they perform over time using assessments like essays, research papers, and science experiments that encourage higher order thinking skills. The TLN participants want to be accountable at a higher level. They seek comprehensive approaches that include long-term data on student progress captured by performance assessments as well as multiple-choice tests.

A print version of the new CTQ/TLN paper is now circulating on Capitol Hill, and an easy-to-read digital version is available online that includes audio comments from several TLN participants.

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