State Superintendent of Instruction Denise Juneau voiced this week what has become a seemingly unanimous educator assessment of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In an interview with the Chronicle, Juneau said the federal system of testing students and setting goals for improvement has set impossible standards for schools and has created immense uncertainty data-gathering tasks for teachers. She said she has written the U.S. Secretary of Education and informed him she will not ask Montana schools to meet new NCLB goals for the coming school year.
At first blush, this seems a bit rash. To her credit, however, Juneau is proposing an alternative.
Educators nationwide have blasted NCLB for imposing one-size-fits-all testing and standards for highly diverse student populations from around the nation and along the socio-economic scale. They say the act is forcing teachers to teach to tests rather than engaging in creative education methods tailored to individual students' needs.
There does seem to be real issues with NCLB, but educators' seemingly relentless resistance to measuring the quality of our schools is troubling. There must be a way to gauge their success, and doing so is a national imperative.
Juneau is proposing the state adopt "common core" standards that 43 states have already adopted. She says the common core standards are much clearer than NCLB's and measure students' progress at every grade level, rather than just the three grade levels measured under NCLB.
Supporters of the new system say the common core replaces highly variable standards adopted by individual states as they tried to conform with NCLB. They contend the new system will make it easier to measure progress and compare progress between states.
This much is certain: Our nation's education system needs to improve. U.S. students' abilities in math and science lag behind those in some 20 other developed nations.
In Montana, 84 percent of students read at grade level, while 67 percent meet grade-level math skills. While those numbers stack up pretty well when compared to national averages, they are still below what we should expect.
And if we are to improve them, we need a way to measure our schools' success and give them strategies for improvement.
Juneau seems to have accepted that and is proposing Montana adopt a reasonable alternative to No Child Left Behind. Educators nationwide need to do the same.