In a major speech by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Monday, he “boldly” called for scrapping the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Yet, reasserting that annual standardized testing is more important than ever, Duncan strongly affirmed his commitment to “create new incentives to catalyze bold state and local innovation in support of student success and achievement” in spite of coercing states and districts to adopt the Common Core Standards during the recent Race to the Top initiative.
In addition to saying that we test children too much, all the while reasserting the importance of annual testing, Duncan also doubled down on evaluating teachers using “value-added measurement,” which has been proven to be an inaccurate and unfair method of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom for student growth.
In addition, he underscores the importance of moving toward a “new ESEA” because NCLB is “out-of-date, and tired and prescriptive” by proposing more money to fix the problems with our system of education, the well-being of our youth, and our society. Consider that if New Hampshire did not apply for a waiver from the federal Department of Education in June 2013, then 75 percent of its schools would have been labeled “failing” in 2014, in spite of having per pupil spending at the top when compared nationally. Further evidence that our policies are failing includes a recent report that New Hampshire and Mississippi earned the grade of “D” for K-12 student achievement, school finance and chance for success. In fact the overall grade for American education went from a “C+” in 2013 to a “C” in 2014. We can only conclude that Duncan-era policies are ineffective when implementing policies that support student success and achievement.
These additional recent statistics further underscore the failures of our education policies and paradigm of thinking about how to improve the futures for all Americans, and include:
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• Jean Twenge, a leading positive psychology researcher, found that 5 times as many high school and college students are dealing with “anxiety” and other mental health issues as youth studied in the Great Depression era; indicating that our youth are not psychologically ready for a positive future, and we are not teaching them how to take control of their own psychological well-being.
• Most directly and importantly, numerous research studies demonstrate that the most important protective factor and key indicator of a positive life course trajectory for children is self-knowledge, not how well one performs on a test or academically.
• Two out of three eighth-graders can’t read proficiently. (NAEP, 2011)
• Nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders scored below proficient in math. (NAEP, 2011)
• Seventy-five percent of students are not proficient in civics. (NAEP, 2011)
• Nearly three out of four eighth- and 12th-grade students cannot write proficiently. (NAEP, 2012)
• Some 1.1 million American students drop out of school every year. (EPE, 2012)
• For black and Hispanic students across the country, dropout rates are close to 40 percent, compared to the national average of 27 percent. (EPE, 2012)
• Less than half of American students — 46 percent — finish college. The U.S. ranks last among 18 countries measured on this indicator. (OECD, 2010)
• Only one in four high school students graduate ready for college in all four core subjects (English, reading, math and science), which is why a third of students entering college have to take remedial courses. (ACT, 2011)
• Only 4 percent of black students and 11 percent of Hispanic students finish high school ready for college in their core subjects. (ACT, 2011)
American students are not learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.
These statistics underscore the need to rewrite not only NCLB but also ESEA for a new era with new human and societal needs.
Certainly the world has changed dramatically since 1965, yet our education debate continues to center on the level of thinking, the ideas, values, needs and policies espoused in laws written for another time.
I am challenging our education leaders to leave behind their thinking about our system of education so as to inquire into a new path forward. I agree with Duncan that we should “head in a very different direction” and “turning back the clock would be truly hypocritical.”
We should not hold onto the policies and practices that just do not work for our children in today’s world simply because his legacy is more important than our children’s futures, or the new Republican leaders want to fast-track new laws that tinker with recent Democrat policies to prove who has the better ideas.
We do have the moral imperative to think differently, all of us in positions of leadership and dispositions of caring, to leave a better world for our children through a better system of education.