Yesterday, I examined priority one in the Obama Administration’s recently released blueprint for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. After examining priority one specifically, it is apparent that the Obama administration is going to continue the testing mania of NCLB 1.0, with some new areas of emphasis. Those areas are:
- tying student test scores to teacher and principal evaluations.
- ensuring every student graduates college and career ready.
- increased flexibility but most likely more federal government oversight.
The blueprint outlines five educational priorities that guide the Obama administration’s education policy. The second priority is Great Teachers and Leaders in Every School. Under this priority, the Obama administration has decided to focus on three components: 1) Effective teachers and principals, 2) Placing the best teachers and principals where they are needed most, and 3) Strengthening teacher and leader preparation and recruitment.
In addressing effective teachers and principals, the blueprint uses language like “elevating the teaching profession” by “recognizing, encouraging, and rewarding excellence.” Teacher and principal evaluations are called for that “identify effective and highly effective teachers and principals on the basis of student growth and other factors.” These evaluations are to be used to identify staff development needs for teachers and principals and help improve student learning.There is also a statement that there will be a “new program” to address the recruitment, placement, rewarding, retaining, and promoting effective teachers and principals. Still another statement says that this program will be used to “enhance the profession of teaching.” The Obama administration’s talk about elevating the teaching profession is hard to argue with, but apparently his idea of doing that involves three things: 1)tying teacher and principal evaluations to test scores, 2) revamped teacher and principal evaluations that identify “effective” and “highly effective” teachers and principals, and 3) some unnamed program that will focus on recruitment, placement, retention, rewarding and promoting teachers and principals.
Personally the language of the blueprint should cause teachers and principals concern for several reasons. First of all, the Obama administration and Secretary Arne Duncan just can’t let go of the idea of tying teacher and principal evaluations to student test performance. This is a concern for me personally for two reasons. To begin with, right now there are no existing state tests or national tests that I would bet my career on. My own state, North Carolina has the strangest and quirkiest testing system in the country. It takes a mathematician to figure how the state figures growth from year to year because they do not even use the same subject test to determine growth. For example, to determine growth in on the US History test, they actually use non-history tests and some kind of magical statistical formula to determine growth. Who would want to bank their career on that kind of mathematical wizardry? Another reason to be concerned is that teachers and principals must regularly deal with a number of variables beyond their control. I agree with the Obama administration’s language when they point out the importance of having an effective teacher in the classroom and an effective principal in the school. But the Obama administration’s plan dumps the entire responsibility for student achievement into the laps of teachers and principals. What about all the other factors that are important too, like whether the child gets a good night sleep, whether he has adequate health care, whether she has loving, caring parents, and whether she has clothing to wear? The Obama administration fails address how this evaluation system is also going to take into consideration these social factors.
The other component that concerns me as an administrator is this word “placement” in this phantom new program. Does this mean that teachers and administrators can look forward to being shuffled to and fro during their careers? The hidden meaning here is that if you are an effective or highly effective administrator or teacher you are going to find yourself in schools of highest need. You’ll will get the call that you are being sent across town to a school that has trouble keeping teachers and principals for a reason. They are unpleasant places to work due to lack of resources and lack of support.
I plan to continue to sift through the language of the Obama administration’s blueprint for NCLB 2.0 in the coming days. The bottom line is, it seems to me that on the one hand, the Obama administration sounds supportive of teachers and administrators and the idea of educator professionalism. But, on the other hand, when you start looking more closely at NCLB 2.0 you have to start worrying that its continued focus on high-stakes testing is only going to intensify the sour culture created by the Bush administration’s NCLB 1.0.