Blueprint for Reform is better than NCLB

The Blueprint for Reform’s proposal to define the federal role in education as “shifting from a focus merely on compliance to allowing state and local innovation to flourish” is ideological at best.  While the proposal is a vast improvement on the NCLB legislation in terms of complexity and flexibility, it still does not completely solve all the issues facing public education.  However, it does provide a stronger base legislation for students and schools than its predecessor.  There are also some major frame changes for the same problems NCLB attempted to address and the Blueprint does address.

The first major frame change is geared toward the expectation of the students, the Blueprint calls for a ‘fair chance to succeed’ rather than ‘leaving no child behind.’  This frame change takes the focus off the student’s abilities and shifts it more toward the capacity of the schools.  While NCLB focused solely on test scores and absolute measures, the Blueprint is asking for a more value-added system of assessment to better understand the students, their growth, and the quality of education.  This well-rounded approach to learning about how our students learn, although costly, will establish a better understanding of the challenges facing our students and schools, and how to overcome them.

Another major frame change is moving from the discussion of low-performing schools being ‘in need of improvement’ or ‘failing’ as in NCLB terms, to the more accurate ‘high-need’.  The concept is developed to mean that states must measure and report resource disparities and create ways to demolish them.  As the daughter of a woman who for the past 15 years taught third grade at a 90% ESL and partially migrant single school district in rural California which lost its oil land property tax to redistricting, this language change is as much a victory as it is a relief.  The idea is no longer an absolute abandonment of the students, but instead an admission of their situation and the acknowledgement that while all things are not created equal, education should not be one of those.

The final major frame change from NCLB is the expectation of teachers to be ‘highly –qualified.’  While this was an important goal of the NCLB legislation, and one which most could agree on, it affected students only in indirect means.  The focus of NCLB once again was on the teacher, not on the student.  Stephen Hawking maybe highly qualified but he would be completely ineffectual in an urban remedial math class.  The idea of ‘effective’ and ‘highly effective’ teachers and principals brings more focus to the student’s ability to learn the coursework, and the teacher’s ability to teach to different learning styles.  There is no doubt that teachers should be ‘highly qualified’, but that is only a shortsighted goal that does not root of the disconnect between student and teacher like the change to ‘effective’ and ‘highly effective’ does.

As someone who has an interest in disadvantaged populations, NCLB to me, neglected the rural migrant populations.  While a large amount of time and resources should be focused on urban, low-poverty, and minority populations, given their size and value to society, migrant students have that same value but not the size.  Unfortunately, these students have been lost in the system; with no acknowledgement that their specific needs are far different from other disadvantaged populations.  Often these students are not only migrant, but low-poverty, minority, and without a stable home life.  The Blueprint brings light upon these students to help them grow, and specifically sets aside resources for their development.

With the capacity building innovative arts grants, which also acknowledge the value of artistic involvement, which can be seen in the recent 12-year longitudinal study by Dr. Catterall called Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, this Blueprint will be more effectual in outcomes than NCLB ever could have hoped to have been.

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