Payzant and Cross on Reforming NCLB

by Harry on June 24, 2009

EPI is hosting an event tomorrow sponsored by the Broader Bolder coalition, on how to reform NCLB. Tom Payzant (former Superintendent in Boston and San Diego) and Christopher Cross (formerly of the Bush I administration) will present. I’ve seen the report, to be released at the event, and it is considerably influenced by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobson and Tamara Wilder’s recent book Grading Education (discussed here — Rothstein was a co-chair of the committee that wrote the report): a reduced, and more consistent, Federal role, using enhanced NAEP tests that resemble early NAEP and do not simply test basic skills (as someone recently said, “there’s a reason they’re called ‘basic’ skills”), improving disaggregation, and coordinating the states; and state-level policy which includes an inspection role, gathering qualitative and quantitative data (the inspection regime being modelled on the OFSTED regime that prevailed 1993-2005).

I’m curious where this will go. It seems like nobody’s eye is really on NCLB, and understandably so. The Secretary of Education, I note, was an initial signer of the Broader Bolder initial statement, so perhaps they have real influence. I hope so. I regret I can’t be at the event, but urge anyone who’s in DC to attend. I’ll link to the report when it goes public.



TFT 06.24.09 at 6:59 pm

I think Arne signed both. He seems to talk out of both sides of his mouth, so his signing of two disparate documents makes sense.


StevenAttewell 06.24.09 at 7:53 pm

Arne did sign both, but isn’t that just standard political behavior?

Needless to say, I’d be more worried if he only signed onto the EEP document and not the Bigger, Bolder document.


robertdfeinman 06.25.09 at 2:15 am

Broader Bolder understands the fallacies in the NCLB assumptions, but misses the hidden agenda. This is typical of those with a liberal persuasion who think that policy can be achieved by examining the facts and that both sides are interested in reaching a conclusion based upon them.

The goal of NCLB was not to improve education, it was to destroy the teacher’s unions and take away the hard won rights including tenure and the ability to act as professionals. This gets back to the differing views of the purpose of education.

One group sees education as a way to instruct the young with the essentials of the society and turn them into docile citizens who will provide the workforce and consumer base that the elite depends upon. This group favors an authoritarian, top down, approach to instruction. I call this the Mcguffey’s Reader school of education. Rote and spare the rod, spoil the child.

The other group (which I associate with John Dewey) sees the purpose of education is to develop thinking adults who can fully participate in democratic governance of their society. What is taught is how to think and how to learn on one’s own after leaving school. The favored techniques have to do with hands-on learning and all the other apparatus of the “progressive” educational movement. Questioning authority is central to one’s duties as a citizen.

The use of standardized tests, of continuous improvement criteria that are mathematically impossible to meet (where do you go if your school is at 100%?) and punishing schools that “fail” are all designed to discredit public education. Couple this with the blurring of the lines of government funding of parochial schools, the rise of slanted charter schools, vouchers and even allowing home schooling are all meant to weaken the support for public education.

Allowing parents to isolate their kids and limit their exposure to new ideas and to people not like themselves leads to the loss of a shared experience owed to all. The melting pot is turning into a lumpy stew.

You cannot argue against those with an ideological objective by using facts. Falling into this trap is why the left has continual failed to move progressive social ideas forward.


Dan Simon 06.25.09 at 2:43 pm

Harry, these proposals for strengthening, broadening and deepening educational standards beyond NLCB’s very rudimentary level sound terrific–but aren’t they kind of beside the point, given that NLCB is essentially on life-support after years of being mauled by the large consitituency that opposes all educational standards? And do you really believe that the “Broader, Bolder Coalition”–whose manifesto openly embraces using education policy as a stalking horse for a broad political agenda that has little to do with educational standards–is a reliable standard-bearer for strong educational standards?


Salient 06.25.09 at 5:26 pm

Broader Bolder understands the fallacies in the NCLB assumptions, but misses the hidden agenda.

That, or Broader Bolder knows the way to achieve meaningful, laudable education reform (if they can) is not to accuse the people who still hold the power and purse of having intentionally and covertly worked to destroy public education. Because, even if what you say is true of every person who worked on NCLB (a supposition which I frankly question), the folks in charge might not want to cooperate with people who are accusing them of misconduct, you know?

The use of standardized tests, of continuous improvement criteria that are mathematically impossible to meet (where do you go if your school is at 100%?) and punishing schools that “fail” are all designed to discredit public education.

There are states (I live in one) in which FMD students are counted in your aggregate district population, but due to the precise statistical procedure one must use to compute aggregated data, do not get counted in the aggregate measurement of success (any way you cut it: students who score proficient/distinguished, students who don’t score novice, etc). So, some FMD students count as an auto-fail for the school. (Last I heard, a few noble legislators in my state of residence were working on fixing this, if possible, but that was in ’08; I’ve been out of the loop for a few months.)

[FMD: Functional Mental Disability]


robertdfeinman 06.25.09 at 10:12 pm

What do you do if you are supposed to be negotiating with implacable ideologues? Look at the similar situation with abstinence only sex ed. There were studies galore, including many from before the policy was adopted, that showed it was a counter-productive plan.

Notice that it got dropped only after Obama took office and ended the policy. What good were all the arguments for the preceding years? Rod Paige and Arne Duncan are both frauds. They cooked their books to show that some favored policy of theirs worked and got themselves made dept head.

Duncan was forced to admit that a study on charter schools showed that they don’t perform better than public schools, especially when you allow for their selectivity in choosing who attends. I’m not a lobbyist or working for a think tank so I feel free to point out that using facts against ideologues is a mug’s game. How Broader Bolder deals with political reality is up to them. My only point is that too many on the left fail to recognize the hidden agendas of the right and think that there is an honest intellectual debate going on.

Someday, if you like, we can review how that worked with the changes to the estate tax laws. To get you started here’s a report on the hidden agenda in that case:


Salient 06.25.09 at 10:35 pm

What do you do if you are supposed to be negotiating with implacable ideologues?

With painstakingly compelling arguments that I haven’t heard yet, you could perhaps convince me there exist at most a dozen U.S. Senators who deeply, implacably want to “destroy public education.” Even at my most cynical moments of working with state legislature sausage-makers, I believe most of the reps just wanted to vote up a bill that would improve their standing in their constituents’ eyes without screwing anything up, and/or bring in lobbying funding. I imagine the national picture is similar. In the context of education, there are fewer implacable Senators than there are might be in the context of, e.g., estate tax.

So, what to do, what to do? Let me be naive and assume you were asking a sincere open question rather than a rhetorical question, since I have an answer to it. Let me speak statewide and let you generalize to the federal level.

* Do some marketing work. Catchy slogans are nice. Invent the phrases you want associated with your proposal.

* Sell your ideas directly to teachers. If teachers balk at something they’d have to partway implement, it doesn’t matter if J.Q. Legislator signs it into law ~ the spirit of the proposal will be subverted even if the letter is upheld.

* The public is an appropriate intermediary. Know your target audience: which parents can you provoke to go groan to their reps, and how can you sell them on your proposal?

* Sell your idea to the public with local presentations. PTA meetings — which still do occur! — will welcome you. In districts without a strong PTA, get to know the principal, administration, and county officials who can offer you space and advertising for a local meeting.

* Form some professional friendships with various legislative staff. Listen more than you talk.

* Play demographics. Figure out which districts are more likely to be supportive and play to them first.

* Design scalable proposals when possible. Can your proposal be put into play in one district as a test run?

* Local media are often dying for stories. Notify them of your work. Prepare good sound bites.

* Form some professional friendships with legislators themselves. Sell your proposals on their popularity with other groups, not necessarily on their merits (although it never ceases to amaze and delight me how many legislatures do genuinely want to promote merit-worthy, beneficial legislation).

I have perhaps dozens more points I might eventually make in a more appropriate context, but I don’t want to derail this thread!

My only point is that too many on the left fail to recognize the hidden agendas of the right and think that there is an honest intellectual debate going on.

I… doubt that very much.


Salient 06.25.09 at 10:37 pm

Shorter me: If all ideologues were irretrievably implacable, we’d have never had Brown vs. Board of Education.


StevenAttewell 06.26.09 at 8:45 pm

Posted a rather longish essay on this topic on my blog, which you can reach by clicking on my name.

But in response to people here:

I would argue that it’s not that legislators are per se part of one block or the other – Salient’s probably right about that. But the people around the legislators, the education reform groups, the Michelle Rhees of the world, the think-tankers, etc. all have an ideological agenda, that’s where robertdfeinman is right (although there’s an agenda on both sides).

And I think that’s a good thing. We should have a politics that includes more than technocratic adjustments, but let’s be open about it. And we have a process for dealing with this kind of conflict – let both sides declare themselves openly, marshal their resources, count the votes, spin the media, and let the majority rule.


Tracy W 06.29.09 at 7:43 am

Harry – I have got a copy of Class and Schools by Rothestein, and you are right, he does make a devastating attack on the 90-90-90 schools. How I wish he had put this online, or alternatively, how I wish that I could carry Wellington’s public library with me wherever I go.

I am still reading the remainder of the book, but so far find myself unconvinced. Partly his focus is different to mine, his interest is in eliminating the socio-economic gap in educational achievement, my interest is in getting everyone to read and write – I think that if the white daughter of two PhD parents fails to learn to read that can hardly be ignored on the basis that her socio-economic group statistically is doing far better than the average. He also has a rather US focus, I would like a comparison between the US and say, NZ, where there are extensive programmes like dental clinics in schools, and still an achievement gap. Perhaps he does cover that, I will keep reading.

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