The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Educator Roundtable - doomed to fail

A group called The Educator Roundtable has made a splash in education circles recently, calling for “the dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act.” They’re encouraging people to sign a petition to that end and promoting their message through the trade media, the blogosphere, and undoubtedly through the social networks that connect teachers to teachers and schools to communities. They’re even collecting funds to launch an ad campaign calling for the elimination of NCLB.

They’re going to fail.

While I disagree with their reasoning and goals, their inevitable failure has nothing to do with either of those. We could argue back and forth, point/counterpoint, and it wouldn’t change the fact that they have no chance whatsoever of succeeding in their mission.

The reason has nothing to do with their message; it has everything to do with human nature. The simple fact is that, for people to achieve great things (however they define them), they have to move towards something, not away from something.

And that’s the problem with The Educator Roundtable’s fight to dismantle NCLB: they want to move away from something, but offer nothing to replace it.

From their petition:

We, the educators, parents, and concerned citizens whose names appear below, reject the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act and call for legislators to vote against its reauthorization. We do so not because we resist accountability, but because the law's simplistic approach to education reform wastes student potential, undermines public education, and threatens the future of our democracy.

Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.

Their vision – what we get if we successfully overturn NCLB – is that they’ll hold formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators. Let that sink in for a minute.

What they’re saying is that they have no plan at all – one can only assume that we’ll go back to the ways things were before NCLB and sit tight, awaiting further instructions. But assumptions aren’t visions, and state-level dialogues aren’t going to inspire anybody.

Our forefathers overthrew British rule, but it wasn’t simply because they didn’t like being oppressed; there have been, and always will be, plenty of oppressed people who put up with being ruled unfairly. What got them to act was the promise of something better: the vision of independent democratic self-rule. They almost certainly would not have revolted if they had not had a better option clearly in mind. They risked everything to move toward something, not just away from something.

When the Russians leapt ahead in the space race with the Sputnik program, John F. Kennedy inspired the country by promising to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He didn’t motivate the dispirited masses by promising to fight technological obsolescence; he helped the country move toward a great accomplishment, not away from doom.

Other people spoke out against segregation, but it wasn’t until Martin Luther King Jr. painted a picture of a better world that people bought in and forced change, often at great personal cost.

Once The Educator Roundtable can give us a compelling picture of a world without NCLB – one that all of education’s stakeholders, not just teachers, can buy into – then they’ll have a fighting chance. Until then, their efforts are futile.


  • Brett,

    Expect to get some sort of response from Phillip Kovac, a leader or spokesman of the group. He routinely review blogs that talk about his group's petition, but generally does not do much to improve or explain his position, in my view.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of human nature. But political nature also says that people prefer to vote for something. Only when their ire is so sharp will they vote against something and while a lot of people are not fans of parts of NCLB, most people can find somethings they like about the law and wouldn't want to see those parts dismantled.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:20 PM  

  • When did conservatives stop trusting people to find solutions to local problems?

    We seek to replace "standardization" with customization; "performance" with growth and development; and "accountability" with transparency.

    At present, the state of Nebraska offers the best practical roadmap for doing so.

    While we don't believe any single group of players should have the final say in how local school systems operate, we offer a broad outline for realizing an educational system more conducive to life, liberty, and happiness...

    Our alternatives (available from our homepage if you bother to read it before claiming we don't have any solutions...):

    15 Steps Toward an Alternate Educational Universe
    and a Healthier Society

    * Plan and implement a formalized national dialogue on the purposes and aims of public schools in a democratic republic.

    * Rebuild the teaching profession by seeking the partnership of teachers in the shared goal of democratic living, economic autonomy, and creative problem solving.

    * Recognizing that there is no single best approach that fits every learning context, encourage local choice in deciding curriculums and instructional strategies that are grounded in best practices as defined by teachers, researchers, and the professional associations that represent various disciplines.

    * Offer research and professional development incentives for teacher education programs to work directly with principals, teachers, and students in schools.

    * Offer funds to support universal mentoring for teacher candidates who are required to complete yearlong internships.

    * Require elementary education majors to have an additional major in a liberal arts discipline.

    * Build assessment systems with local and national components that use multiple measures and multiple methods, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that fits no one.

    * Build assessment systems that assess understanding, application, and factual knowledge for personal growth and future economic success, rather than simply measuring the retention of desiccated facts that are irrelevant to prospering in the 21st Century.

    * Rather than defining academic expectations so that the majority of the disenfranchised, the weak, and the poor are sure to fail, build assessment systems that measure progress over time and that match resources with expectations for the special challenges to disabled, immigrant, and poor children.

    * Develop a focused school ecosystem intent on building and nurturing the intellectual, civic, physical, and emotional health of children.

    * Establish interstate education communications and data links that encourage mutual assistance and shared responsibility among states and municipalities, rather than encouraging districts and teachers to keep successful strategies behind closed doors in order to win the competition for higher salaries.

    * Make improvement to struggling schools an integral part of family and community infrastructure, support and rebuilding, rather than pretending that student development and school achievement are independent of family income and community health.

    * Support efforts aimed at ethnic, religious, and economic integration, rather than spending tax dollars on testing schemes that serve as incentives for economic segregation.

    * Base school funding decisions on addressing the needs of the least advantaged before rewarding those who have demonstrated that they are the least in need of extra resources.

    * Rather than funding school privatization efforts with vouchers and EMOs, fully fund public schools and support public school choice within and beyond district boundaries.

    By Blogger philip, at 1:13 PM  

  • Philip, thanks for your response, but the fact that you have a list of desired goals hidden away on your site does not change the fact that your primary message is against something rather than for something. Your campaign is anti-NCLB, not pro-local-control or pro-multiple-assessment or pro-equity, and that approach has historically not worked.

    And as I said before, I'm not going to get into a point-by-point debate, as there's no need. I'm approaching this from a communications theory POV, and my argument stands.



    By Blogger Brett Pawlowski, at 1:38 PM  

  • I am not interested in a point by point debate, but I am interested in shifting policy debate.

    AND...I apologize for making the assumption that you are "conservative."


    By Blogger philip, at 1:44 PM  

  • Poor little kitty wants to rub up against something warm...

    ...yet there it is quoted from the founders for all to see:

    "the vision of independent democratic self-rule"

    ...which makes ER just about the hottest thing in town!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:19 PM  

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