Education Reforms: NCLB, State Changes

June 3, 2010

Education Labor Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives had a hearing last week on reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

In March, President Obama outlined proposed a “Blueprint for Reform” to NLCB that he is urging Congress to support. Here is the 45-page document that outlines his proposed changes. In short, it does a few good things, and I disagree with other portions of it. Obama’s plan removes the 2014 deadline of all children being “proficient,” and removes requirements that a school must improve on its standardized tests. These are no-brainers, and shouldn’t have been a part of NCLB in the first place.

I believe that the U.S. needs to look at what academic research can tell us about our education system and what is and isn’t working. In my first semester of graduate school, I took an Education Governance class, and this fall I will be taking a History of US Education Policy class. Here are the proposals that I think should be included in a policy-shift in education based on academic research currently available:

1. Slow/Redirect the spending on Education. There is little evidence that school spending levels have significant impacts on student outcomes.
           a. The federal government has increased spending from approximately $10 billion in 1995 to over $50 billion this year, and in Missouri during the same time period from approximately $3 billion to $5 billion on Elementary and Secondary Education.
          b. In all of this extra spending, are our high school students nearly 100% smarter than they were than those in 1995?

2. Address the racial achievement gap in a proactive way
          a. This gap may appear to be a socioeconomic status gap at first, but the racial achievement gap widens as kids move through school.
          b. A way to address this would to have a task force of education industry leaders to find a workable solution to this growing epidemic.

3. Learn & utilize peers in the classroom
          a. Studies have shown that peers are very important, and can often tell how smart you are.
          b. Where you live determines where you go to school. It’s as simple as that, and in the U.S., our peers can positively affect the scores of each other if in the right setting.
          c. We need to learn more about this effect and learn how we can maximize each other’s learning. We can do this by learning how effective busing children would be or if we need to rethink our proximity based elementary school layout that the United States currently has.

4. Expand early childhood initiatives
          a. Studies have shown that giving poor children access to early childhood programs can close the educational gaps.
          b. However, these advances can be lost throughout the child’s educational journey if they aren’t given proper guidance at home.
          c. Also, these programs are very expensive, but I would propose to redirect monies into these programs as opposed to pouring them into the K-12 system, like we are currently doing.

5. Changes to the “Teacher”
           a. It’s incredibly difficult to tell a “good” teacher from a “poor” teacher. Traditional Certification (Education Degree) does not produce “better” teachers systematically. Also, having a Master’s degree does not produce “better” teachers systematically.
           b. A change to the “teacher” that I would recommend is to begin (slowly) to implement a Merit Pay type system, keeping a minimum pay structure for teachers with experience and education. DESE could work with the General Assembly and the teaching unions to begin to implement this type of system.
           c. I would also encourage DESE to work with the Education programs at Missouri’s universities to address issues such as a large burnout rate (as high as 50% within 5 years) among teachers, and opening the door more easily for “highly qualified” individuals in a specific area to expedite their certification. I’m friends with many smart, capable people that will be successful teachers. However, as a state we need to be assured that these Education programs are teaching the necessary tools to prospective teachers.

Education policy is filled with discussions about “preparing everyone” for work or college, but our system are lacking compared to many other nations. It’s time that the United States has open, frank, and honest discussions about how to improve our K-12 education system. What we have been doing hasn’t been working, and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Addendum: Here are a few of the relevant academic articles regarding this article:

west nclb how to give it a passing grade policy brief 2005

Race Article 1

podgursky & springer teacher performance pay

nye et al how large are teacher effects

heckman the economics of investing in early childhood PPT

boyd et al how changes in entry requirements