By Michelle Blackston
Just as the federal government considers reducing its role in traditionally state-operated public schools, lawmakers and education policy experts met to put the process of education reform into action.
NCSL’s National Education Seminar brought state lawmakers focusing on education, legislative staff and experts in the field of education reform together to share ideas and best practices for what works in turning around troubled schools and boosting student achievement.
On the day before this meeting began, the president and secretary of education announced plans for the reauthorization or “reworking” of the No Child Left Behind legislation passed under President George W. Bush. The federal education plan, detailed here in the Wall Street Journal article, would be changed to focus less on standardized test scores and more on a broad set of national goals.
From the Wall Street Journal:
“The Obama version would essentially flip the government's focus by setting firmer, nation-wide goals for success while allowing more latitude for how states reach those goals. The proposal would also judge schools by the growth of individual students instead of overall class performance. The aim is to assure that high school graduates are "college-ready and career-ready."
"We don't think we should micromanage the schools from Washington," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on Friday. "We want to hold educators accountable but let them be creative."
Coincidentally, state education lawmakers and industry experts were in New York at Columbia University’s Teachers College discussing what works to improve education. The more than 150 attendees of the three-day meeting couched the discussion in budget terms as nearly every state struggles with budget deficits that often result in forced reductions in education spending. So, how can states do more with less and still improve student achievement?
For starters, states legislators need to know what works.
The topics at the seminar ranged from online learning and measuring student achievement to school choice and higher education funding. The leading education reform experts and education researchers debated the results of numerous studies on what works and offered success stories from districts that improved overall student achievement.
Teachers College Professor and education researcher Amy Stuart Wells (pictured left) offered her insight on school choice and the implications on public policy. Barnett Berry, (pictured below) of the Center for Teaching Quality shared strategies on measuring teaching effectiveness. Berry told the group of state policymakers that teachers and principals are two of the most important factors for improving student achievement, especially in high-needs schools.
Another session focused on the growing interest in community colleges. As the nation’s unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, many out-of-work individuals turn to community colleges for continuing education and training. Tom Bailey, of Teachers College who directs the National Center for Postsecondary Research, founded the Community College Research Center and discussed the changing role of community colleges.
Along with Bailey, James Jacobs of Macomb Community College in Michigan shared his insight on the president’s proposal—the American Graduation Initiative, which offers competitive grants to increase community college graduates by an additional 5 million by 2020. Also, the grants encourage free online classes, facilities upgrades and improving employment outcomes for community college graduates.
And the day ended at the New York Times building with the Times’ national education correspondent Sam Dillon hosting a panel discussion with state legislators and practitioners about what innovation looks like at the state and local school level. There is much to be done in education reform and perhaps, for once, all levels of government want to find out what works. This is a good place to start.