Thursday, April 16, 2009

Battle heating up over NCLB

Sam Dillon in Tuesday's NYT, "Education Standards Likely to See Toughening" gives us some clues about the coming battle over NCLB re-authorization. It's clear that the new law will look a lot different from that of the past eight years, belying Diane Ravitch's repeated, but empty claim that Obama=Bush on education.

For one thing, the education stimulus will end years of conscious under-funded, so-called "reform" policies under NCLB, and could help save thousands of teachers jobs and keep many inner-city schools open in the midst of this financial crisis, provided that the money is actually used locally to support schools by cash-strapped states. For another, Obama has been a critic of the past single-minded focus on standardized testing.

The focus on improved teacher quality sounds good, but the devil is in the details. It can't just mean so-called "data-driven merit pay." Standardized testing will still be with us. But how will it be enforced and will the punitive measures such as starving low-scoring schools, punishing schools for teaching low-income kids, transfer policies, etc... be tempered?

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that her union also had concerns about the president’s enthusiasm for data systems, which she said could be misused, but that she would give the new administration the benefit of the doubt.“They have been consistent,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They’re trying to do reform with teachers, not to them.”

All these and more are questions that are going to heat up the emerging war within the Democratic Party as conservative, pro-voucher, privatization, and union-busting factions like DFER, make their move.

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