Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Response to No Child Left Behind from Vermont

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By "Official White House
Photo by Amanda Lucidon" [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
This is dated since NCLB has been replaced by a new education act, ESSA. This post though includes a link to what I think is a remarkable letter by Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe.  This letter is not dated and is filled with good ideas to chew on and use.  In addition, she provides a very clear abstract of NCLB.
As you probably know, under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the U. S. Department of Education (U. S. DoED) required teacher evaluations to include student test scores. This resulted in narrowing the curriculum, shifting instruction (rote), and focusing on teaching to the test. There isn't much wrong with teaching for an assessment. NCLB had the effect of reducing possibilities for learning.
States had an option of applying for a waiver from a number of terms in the No Child Left Behind Law but if the U. S. DoED denied the waiver, the state was required to send a letter to parents in any school not having 100% of its students meeting the standard, informing them that their school was "failing"  This was a potent and nasty stick, one with free of a carrot.
Washington was the first state to lose its waiver but five states — California, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont — operated their public schools without a waiver.
Of these, Vermont was the only state that refused to even bother with the waiver process. In early August 2014, Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, sent a remarkable and clear, child-centered memorandum on teaching and learning to parents and caregivers on this decision and the pernicious influence of NCLB.
The memorandum provided reasons why Vermont is a very good public education system, one committed to improving. In the memorandum, Secretary Holcombe, discusses alternatives to the NCLB requirements, pointed out what was wrong with single measures of proficiency, contained a set of questions parents could use to evaluate their child's school and their child's progress, and a list which outlined Vermon's obligation in helping students learn.
The memorandum is a pleasure to read — spirited, wise, respectful and informed by research. It is properly focused on kids (and those who work with them as teachers), emphasizing their potential and possibilities and what schools should be in order for them to realize them, all in a system that provides students the opportunities of a full curriculum.
This stirring memorandum is about developing minds, not mindlessness.

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