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Reinventing NCLB?
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)



        All eyes are on President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, as important decisions are made regarding changes to the legislation more commonly known as NCLB. Due for reauthorization in Congress three years ago, the acronym “NCLB” conjures up memories of an extreme reliance on standardized testing and empirical data to judge whether or not a school would be labeled as “effective” or “failing.” Perhaps, in an attempt to dispel the negative connotations that teachers, administrators, parents, and students attach to the term NCLB, this legislation is now referred to by its original name, the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), which was created in 1965 under President Johnson as part of the War on Poverty.

        Duncan has announced some important changes that will be enacted if the law is reauthorized in its current, proposed form. One of these changes includes the use of growth models, where an individual student’s progress is monitored over a period of time to see if he or she shows academic progress. This stands in stark contrast to the current assessment model where one group of students’ scores on standardized assessments are compared with another group’s. Another change proposed by Duncan is that school districts would be subject to varying consequences depending on the severity of the problems that it is experiencing. In other words, the consequences will be “differentiated” so that specific issues can be addressed (e.g., if the ELL subgroup seems to be lagging behind other subgroups, then the “consequences” will ideally help schools address this need). Additionally, Duncan is proposing incentives for school districts that show exemplary progress.

        However, these new proposals have already stirred up controversy among teachers’ unions including the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA stated that it “still relies on standardized tests to identify winners and losers” (www.edweek.org) and unions are concerned that incentives could translate into “merit pay” for teachers. NEA emphasizes that the following eight principles must be kept in mind as we head towards the reauthorization of the ESEA:

  • The federal government should serve as a partner to support state efforts to transform public schools.
  • The federal government plays a critical role in ensuring that all children—especially the most disadvantaged—have access to an education that will prepare them to succeed in the 21st century.
  • A revamped accountability system must correctly identify schools in need of assistance and provide a system of effective interventions to help them succeed.
  • Teachers and other staff must be provided supports and resources to help students succeed.
  • The federal government should require states to detail how they will remedy inequities in educational tools, opportunities and resources.
  • State and local collective bargaining for school employees must be respected.
  • Targeted programs that support students and schools with unique needs—such as English Language Acquisition, Impact Aid, rural schools and Indian education—should be maintained and expanded.
  • The federal government should serve as a research clearinghouse, making available to educators a wealth of knowledge about how best to teach students and help schools improve practices (http://www.nea.org/home/1335.htm).
        What can you do to make sure that your voice is heard in the days leading up the reauthorization of the ESEA? Look for emails regarding ways to contact your legislators and send your representatives a quick message to let them know how the ESEA affects you and your students!

        Jory Samkoff –Oulhiad is an ESL Testing Teacher in the Arabic bilingual program for Clifton Public Schools. She is also the Socio-political concerns representative for NJTESOL/NJBE.

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