Monday, December 31, 2007

Stopping the Re-authorization of NCLB

A recent article in the New York Times documents the rising opposition to the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which has stalled. Democrats tend to oppose NCLB because of concerns from teacher unions that NCLB has undercut the professionalism of teachers. Many Republicans oppose NCLB because they believe it intrudes on the role of states to make educational policy.

This situation gives hope to those of us who feel that NCLB has harmed teachers and students across the US by limiting the professional discretion of teachers and by denying students in low achieving schools access to challenging, high expectation curricula. It is also clear that NCLB has failed to alleviate the so-called achievement gap. As I wrote in an earlier posting, based on the most recent NAEP report, “at the current rate of improvement since 1992, it will take another 135 years for the average performance of Black students to pull even with White students. Using the same logic, it will take 375 years for the average performance of Hispanic students to catch up to their White classmates.”

Given the current political realities, the time couldn’t be better for NCTE members and other teachers of the English language arts to contact their congressional representatives to voice their opposition to the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. When I was a member of NCTE’s Executive Committee we heard from a number of congressional staffers that they rarely hear from teachers. Now is the time for our voices to be heard. Contact your representatives but be clear that we are in favor of high standards, but not standardized testing and uniform curricula. We also favor accountability for teachers but not an accountability based on test scores.

So let us resolve in the new year to make a difference in American education by making our voices heard by contacting our congressional representatives to oppose the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. This is a real chance to turn things around for ourselves and our students.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Being Accountable to Children's Needs

I just finished grading exams and papers. For my reading methods course, I ask my Boston College students to write about how they will teach reading when they have their own classrooms. I’m particularly interested in they’re being able to provide a rationale for how they will teach reading. Certainly, I hope that they will be able to cite a research base that supports their decision-making, but I expect more than that. I also want my students to be able to talk about theories of reading (how people read and how they learn to read) that inform their reading program. Do they believe that reading is the fluent, linear processing of visual information (a cognitive-psychological view)? If so, how does their instruction – and the research base they cite to support their reading program – comport with this model of reading? If they view reading as a range of sociocultural processes that vary according to the text, the reader’s purpose, the cultural context, and so on, how does this affect their instructional decision-making and the research they draw on to support their work? Is their reading program theoretically coherent or does it include (theoretically) contradictory practices that send confusing signals to developing readers? To my chagrin, my students sometimes argue that their teaching will draw on both cognitive-psychological and sociocultural views of reading.

In any case, I think it is a reasonable expectation that all teachers of reading be able to provide a clear rationale for their instructional decisions. What they do as teachers of reading should make sense (that is, it should have some theoretical support), have a research base, and, perhaps most importantly, be based on the assessed needs of individual children. This is something else I tell my students (over and over and over again): what they teach must address the individual needs of their students. They should not teach what students already know nor should they teach what students are not ready to learn. Put differently, teachers should be held accountable for showing that their reading instruction supports INDIVIDUAL students’ developing reading abilities within a theoretical coherent framework. Regrettably, narrow standards and high stakes testing often leads to whole class approaches to reading that do not consider the needs and abilities of individual children.