New Mexico Regaining Control of Education from the Fed

posted on November 17, 2018 by Tony Monfiletto

Every Student Succeeds Act will replace No Child Left Behind this year, returning education accountability from the federal government back to the states.

Tony Monfiletto

It’s been more than a decade since No Child Left Behind was passed with great bipartisan fanfare. The thesis was, “If we invest in accountability, then the schools and the people who work in them will be compelled to serve students better.” Testing was the theory of change; teachers will do what is best for young people, or we will close their schools and take their jobs away.

Make no mistake, there was a lot wrong with the education system before No Child Left Behind. There’s a reason why it was championed by Ted Kennedy AND President George W. Bush. We really did leave a lot of children behind particularly disabled, poor, brown and black students. The problem was called the “Achievement Gap” and the law was supposed to correct for the inherent discrimination in the system. That’s more than laudable. It’s inspiring.

We learned that, “do what we say, or else” doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, we learned that, “do what we say, or else” doesn’t work. Jal Meta, in his book The Allure of Order, argues that testing is a reactive, even desperate, strategy to compensate for the insufficient investments (financial and otherwise) that we have made in public schools. We haven’t done what it takes to create great schools with the best educators so we make up for it on the back end by forcing the schools to comply through testing. Teacher evaluation systems, school grades and third grade retention laws are all downstream interventions that measure outputs.

Outputs matter. In fact, they matter so much that we should have many different ways beyond standardized tests to measure whether schools, teachers and students are successful. However, we also need to think much more about inputs. This would start by re-imagining schools based on the future we want for our community. We need to spend much more time and invite many more people into the discussion to figure out where we want to go as a community. After we invest in figuring out what we want, then we can imagine the kind of schools that can help make that happen.

We can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

This year we will have a unique opportunity to transform education; the federal government will implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind and returns accountability from the federal government back to the states. It’s an abrupt turn around that acknowledges the failings of a single-minded strategy. Most states, including New Mexico, are so unprepared to take advantage of the flexibility in the new law that we will likely stick with the current plan that focuses on testing as a change strategy. If we take that approach, we miss the point (and the opportunity) all together. We can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions; it’s a critical mantra to keep in mind this year.

The Center for School Leadership just participated in a group of Education Stakeholders convened by the Business and Education Roundtable this month. The goal was to collectively “identify areas in which we can agree and find consensus with some of the most important and pressing reforms facing New Mexico’s education system.” I admire the fact that Larry Langley, the Executive Director of the Roundtable, reached out to 50 or so people to grapple with our sector’s challenges, however, more than anything, the gathering reminded me of just how much work we have yet to do.

We hope the opening left by Every Student Succeeds is the impetus that will compel us to think in much broader and deeper terms about the future that is now possible.

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