The congressional hearings about reauthorizing No Child Left Behind start today. Love it or hate it, NCLB is the single most influential schools initiative since Brown v. Board of Education. As in that desegregation case, the Federal government is stepping in to influence what has always been a local/state responsibility. What Washington brings to the party is unparalleled influence and funding to back up initiatives. Its limitations are its inflexibility and cumbersome bureaucracy. Not to mention the political concerns of unempowered teachers and the politicians that hate their tenure.
To note the start of today’s hearings, The Washington Post asked a number of experts on both sides of the issue (US Sec. of Ed., NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg, a member of KIPP’s Board of Directors, etc.) about the future of the initiative. If there’s any consensus, it’s that the Federal gov’t should be doing something, but that NCLB is somewhere on the continuum between “not quite there yet” and “horrific catastrophe.”
As far as teachers are concerned, the debate hinges on these 2 facts:
- Teachers generally feel unappreciated and disrespected. As a job that is arguably as skill-based and essential as doctoring and lawyering, why do teachers generally get all of the blame, none of the credit, and none of the rewards?
“How do you expect to find good teachers, if they expect to be treated poorly?”
- Teacher unions generally get the blame for preventing reform. Primarily in response to #1, unions have pushed for solid job security for their members, including strict tenure policies (after a certain number of years, a teacher can not be fired except in extreme cases). Advocates for reform say strong teachers are the key to better achievement, and that unions prevent such measures as merit pay and removing bad teachers.
“How do you expect teachers to get respect, if you let bad teachers bring down a whole school?”
From the candidates:
Sen. Clinton (D – New York)
Sen. Obama (D – Illinois)
Sen. Edwards (D – North Carolina)
Fmr. Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R – New York)
Fmr. Governor Mitt Romney (R – Massachusetts)
Fmr. Governor Mike Huckabee (R – Arkansas)
A take from HBO’s excellent, education-focused season 4 of The Wire:And, just for fun: