At the SOS rally with other teachers at the ellipse in front of the White House this weekend, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, signs everywhere testified to our universal frustration with the failed policies of NCLB and to damaging cuts to education: Education Cuts Never Heal . . . Education is Not Just for the Rich & White . . . No Teacher Supports the Status Quo . . . Education is Not Test Prep . . . Build Schools, Not Bombs.
I came to ED one year ago as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and have extended my position for one additional year. I share teachers’ concerns expressed at the rally. But, unlike them, I have witnessed Arne Duncan’s team working tirelessly to fix these very problems and overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform would dramatically reduce the number of schools labeled as failing for not making AYP so that only the bottom five percent would be identified, and those schools would receive considerable support to turn around. It would end the flawed practice of requiring students to reach an arbitrary bar on a poor proficiency test and ask states to focus on each student’s growth instead. It would provide incentives for programs to support teachers’ professional learning and use multiple measures to evaluate them, not only student growth scores. It would encourage states to expand their curricula to include the arts, history, and others neglected under NCLB. And the plan would support the states in their efforts to create better tests that cover critical thinking and really show what students know and can do.
And this is the source of my frustration: that the teachers at the rally seemed unaware that the administration is with them on so many of the issues they care about. Since he took office, Arne Duncan has been calling for ESEA to be reauthorized so that we can fix the very problems that plague our schools, handcuff teachers, and handicap students. He talks with teachers continually and listens to their concerns. Secretary Duncan is working hard with Congress to pass a bill. If Congress fails to act before the beginning of the school year, he will consider offering regulatory flexibility to help alleviate the burdens of NCLB.
The Arne Duncan who I know developed a passion for education while his mom tutored students in her inner city Chicago Sunday school class who couldn’t read. He worked with her to help these kids, and since then he has built a career focused on educational equity, on ensuring that students do not to become victims of their zip code. He believes the fight for education is a fight for social justice.
At the rally, however, teachers clearly were angry at Arne Duncan for the law that he did not create and that he does not support. Instead of blaming him, teachers and policymakers need to work together as a team to fix a law that we all agree is broken.
Laurie Calvert is a teacher liaison on loan from Buncombe County Schools in N.C. and working temporarily at the Department of Education.