PBS education reporter John Merrow recently produced a three-part series on the successes and failures of the No Child Left Behind Act for the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. In preparing for the series, Merrow and his news producers participated in a four-day email conversation with a group of 20 teachers in the Teacher Leaders Network. Their insights helped shape the final segment of the series, “Teachers Grapple with Attaining Education Law’s Goals,” which offers teacher viewpoints on the impact of the federal law, now up for reauthorization.
Here’s how Merrow summarized the segment:
Some of the best teachers in the country are saying that the federal law called No Child Left Behind makes their jobs both more difficult and less rewarding. They believe the annual tests required by the law unfairly represent students’ abilities, and teachers’ accomplishments. With frustrations mounting, teachers are demanding representation in Washington, choosing school management over classroom jobs, and reluctantly abandoning the profession altogether.
Merrow producer Jane Renaud also prepared a series of podcasts with four educators who appear in the PBS report, including TLN member Anthony Cody, an Oakland CA teacher and science resources coach. Merrow often uses this podcast strategy to extend the content of the all-too-brief TV segments.
You can listen to Anthony’s podcast on Merrow’s Learning Matters website (transcript here). Although the blurb describing the audio interview suggests that Anthony “left the classroom” several years ago, it’s important to point out that he left to assume a teacher leadership role, first as a peer reviewer in his district’s teacher improvement program and now as a science resources teacher who provides professional development in his content area. Merrow’s decision to view persons in such roles as “non-teachers” (probably done for dramatic effect here) reminds us of how teacher leaders can still be marginalized by labels that take away their teacher status when they work in jobs outside a single classroom.
Anthony’s 20-minute critique of NCLB emphasizes that good teachers want accountability, but many question whether the accountability built into the federal law encourages quality teaching — or fairly measures the accomplishments of teachers, especially those who teach in high-needs schools.
Teachers have had a really hard time with this dialogue because No Child Left Behind sets us up to look like if we do not like No Child Left Behind we are rejecting accountability. And anything I say is kind of suspect, especially if I start saying, well, you know, there’s factors that I don’t control that are affecting student performance. Well, that looks like I’m shirking my responsibility when, in fact, all I really want is I want a sense of shared responsibility and I want some goals that I can actually achieve, and I want to be honored for the work that I do, and I want my students to be honored for the value that…is in each of them.
Other teacher interviews will be posted on the podcast page soon. Be sure to visit again and listen to Fairfax County VA teacher of the year Lynn Riggs, who offers suggestions about how more authentic assessments could improve both quality teaching and student achievement.