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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Waiver to NCLB Disappointing for Children

MBOE President John Austin
Superintendent Michael Flanagan
Trustee Eileen Lappin Weiser
Michigan Department of Education

Dear Michigan Education Leaders,

I am writing regarding a recent article I read in the Kalamazoo Gazette,, reporting that the Michigan Board of Education sent a letter seeking a waiver from the Federal Government to the goals of No Child Left Behind from 100% proficient in 2014 to 80% in 2014 and 100% in ten years. The article contained a caveat that perhaps 100% will never be attainable, though I realize this is not necessarily the opinion of your Board.

As the highest level of educational leaders in our state, you hold the key to balancing the need to improve educational outcomes for all of Michigan’s children with the institutional resistance to change and accountability. Overall, I believe the Michigan BOE and MDOE have been doing an excellent job with this incredibly challenging task. Your commitment to creating high expectation state exams, useful online reporting, regular assessment and continuous improvement is notable. Some have complained about the “tests constantly changing” or “the cut scores constantly changing”, but I see these changes as a reflection of your commitment to continuously raise the bar for yourselves and for the education community in Michigan. Unfortunately, I do not believe most of the K-12 educational institutions in Michigan have demonstrated a similar commitment.

Let’s review a little history. NCLB became law January 8, 2002. The original goal was that all children would pass their state proficiency exams by 2014. This meant every child beginning school in first grade in 2002 and every year after would need to be proficient. It is true that at the time, not all states had robust exams, so the definition of “proficient” was debatable. However, it seems absolutely logical that educators would assume that minimally this would mean that every child should be able to read at grade level by the end of third grade and until graduation. (You know the old saying, up until the end of third grade, we learn to read. After third grade, we read to learn.)

I have been active with Portage Public Schools since 2001. When NCLB became law, PPS did not establish district goals to achieve 100% of students proficient in reading. As a matter of fact, PPS has never set a 100% proficient goal for reading. Just this last year, PPS discovered that 25% of the freshman class was reading below grade level. This is the class of children who were in fact first graders in 2002! The sad truth is that finding any school district in Michigan truly committed to 100% proficiency is very difficult.

So it seems, after 10 years of a 12 year target, to ask for another 10 years is to let our children down. School districts and the adults who run them must be held accountable now. If a significant number of our schools fail NCLB, it is because we are failing our children, perhaps not all children, but too many children. This visibility of failure, though at first will be defended with excuses, can create a motivation for real change that has yet to permeate a public school system whose leaders believe they will never actually be held accountable.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet and hear Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. If you have the chance to hear him speak, it is well worth the time. His message is clear, we must respond to the urgent need to be accountable to teach all children now. He refers to a 2009 Military Readiness research report to make the urgency and magnitude visible. The future of our country depends on it.


KaitiKates said...

I dont understand the attempt to get all children to measure up equally, are we going to test to see if all students are 100% profecient at singing, or sculpting, or designing a new product, or becoming an entrepenure, or dunking a basketball...a lot of very successful people in hustory were horrible student in at least one subject....maybe we should "teach" our children how to learn, not what, how to be successful, and how to be the best people and citizens they could be..yes basic math, history, english skill, reading, writing are necessary..but having seen the ridiculous efforts to make sure the students "pass" a test, and not educating them..I am against all manditory measuring tapes of "knowledge" doesnt benifit the student, but does benifit the bureacracy that runs school, and teachers...lets put the effort into the children

Melanie Kurdys said...

Kaiti, This is an important question. I believe our goal should be, as you say, make sure all our citizens have basic skills in math, reading, history, and writing. How we define the basic skill level is important and probably a point that can be debated. I also believe students should have the opportunity to learn the arts, music, athletics and other areas of interest.

And teaching our children How to Learn must be a number one priority, because things are always changing. This should not be about a test, but about learning.

So how can we know that our children are learning the basics, are learning how to learn?