Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Report on "Democracy at Risk"

Today the Forum for Education and Democracy released an important new report on the 25th anniversary of the release of "A Nation at Risk." Entitled "Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Role in Education," the report--written by Linda Darling-Hammond, George Wood, Beth Glenn, Carl Glickman, Wendy D. Puriefoy, Sharon Robinson, Judith Browne-Dianis, John Goodlad, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Deborah Meier, Larry Myatt, Pedro Noguera, Nancy Sizer, Ted Sizer, and Angela Valenzuela--argues strenuously for a new approach to education at the Federal level.

The authors write:

"We do not provide equal access to a high-quality education to every child in this nation. And even though we have made strides in this direction, we have miles to go before this task is complete. There is a pressing need to redesign our schools to meet the demands of a global 21st century society in which knowledge and technology are changing at a breath-taking pace, and new forms of education are essential for individual and societal survival. Yet, our current policy strategies are constraining rather than enabling the educational innovation our school system needs. Indeed, the path we are pursuing promises to leave our schools, as well as our children, behind."

While the report notes that some innovations have been fostered "on the margins," such as the New Technology High School in Sacramento, California, the overall approach has been to maintain "a compliance-andcontrol regulatory approach that holds the bulk of the system in place, trapping most schools within the constraints of a factory model designed a century ago for another purpose."

The report specifically attacks the No Child Left Behind approach that uses "compliance checklists" instead of true reform initiatives. "Rather than providing access to new programs, technologies, and supports that could dramatically change schools and communities, the law has been managed in ways that push schools back to out-of-date notions of learning and stifle the use of new technologies."

[One example of the ways that NCLB stifles the use of new technologies is the ways in which it forces many schools--particularly those with high numbers of poor and minority children--to focus the curriculum exclusively on "drill" in so-called "basic skills," rather than the type of higher-order thinking tasks and inquiry-based problem solving that new technologies foster.]

The report cites statistics showing that reading improvement under NCLB has been slower than before the law was enacted, that high school graduation rates have started to decline again, that pverty rates among children in the US are the highest in the industrialized world, that the US ranking on international tests has plummeted, that "trust" and "community involvement" among people in the US is in rapid decline, and that increased expenditures on the prison system have far out-paced increases in spending on education.

The report draws a link between the poor quality of education in the US and the poor quality of democracy:

"The challenge is clear: Improving education and improving democracy go hand in hand. We need to build upon the natural curiosity of children to help them make sense of the world. We need to arm them with the knowledge and skills, as well as the resourcefulness and inventiveness, that will be required to invent solutions to tomorrow’s problems. We need to give them the tools to live their lives respectfully and collaboratively with others, building communities that can tackle the challenges that lie ahead. We must think of education as more than a collection of standardized tests if we are to reverse the decline of democracy and create a stronger fabric for “We, the people” among the next generation of citizens."

The report lays out four major priorities that a new Federal policy on education should include:

Federal Priority #1: Pay Off the Educational Debt
  • Link federal education support to state progress toward opportunity to learn
  • Meet the federal obligation for funding programs for students with special needs
  • Invest in high-quality pre-school and health care that enable students to come to school ready to learn.
Federal Priority #2: Develop a World-Class Cadre of Skilled Educators
  • Create incentives for recruiting teachers to high-need fields and locations.
  • Strengthen teachers’ preparation by focusing on how to teach diverse
  • learners, evaluating teacher performance, and creating professional development schools.
  • Launch teaching residency programs in high-need communities.
  • Support mentoring for all beginning teachers.
  • Create sustained, practice-based, collegial learning opportunities for teachers.
  • Develop teaching careers that reward, develop, and share expertise.
  • Mount a major initiative to prepare and support expert school leaders.
Federal Priority #3: Support Educational Research, Development, and Innovation
  • Document and disseminate promising practices.
  • Invest in the development of higher quality standards and assessments for genuine accountability.
  • Develop data bases, shared measures, and tools to advance educational practice.
Federal Priority #4:Engaging Local Communities
  • Foster family engagement in school life and school improvement.
  • Provide for genuine community involvement in school improvement processes.
  • Place schools at the center of community education.
You can obtain a copy of the full report here.


iwhite said...

As noted, one of the new report’s key recommendations is the use of performance-based assessments that require students to conduct research, solve complex real-world problems, and defend their ideas – in other words, to “show what they know.” Educators and policymakers have an opportunity to see exactly this kind of assessment in action during the month of May, when the Coalition of Essential Schools sponsors National Exhibition Month. Take a look at this page for more info and to see a sample performance-based assessment:

Anonymous said...

Pay off the "educational debt"? Is this a new version of reparations for slavery?

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Reports are good, some yield better results than others. What about this report will likely yield more student learning through schooling changes than NCLB?

Elizabeth from Virginia said...

Check out the webcast for the Aspen Institute's Summit on Education that's going on today. the speakers have some good ideas.

Anonymous said...