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New Proposed Education Law Better, But Glaring Problem Remains

A general consensus in the education community is rare, but it appears that the vast majority of educators are rallying around the idea of trashing the No Child Left Behind law.


I am one of the many educators who are thrilled about the prospects of trashing the trash, but my excitement tempered when I started reviewing the details of the program that may replace it.


The proposed program, unveiled by the Obama administration over the weekend, is better. But a destructive method still remains—punishing the lowest performing schools by withholding funds.


There would be a mass ranking of the 70,000 public schools with the lowest 10 percent ineligible to apply for additional federal funds. In addition, the lowest 5 percent would be required to choose between shutting down, replacing half of the teaching staff, firing the principal, or converting to “independent management” (i.e., privatized).


An overrepresented number of these schools in the lowest 10 percent would potentially be in AALANA (African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) neighborhoods. So these schools would continue to not receive the extra resources they need, while they would also potentially be a revolving door of principals and teachers mandated by the federal government if the schools want to stay open and public. In other words, the schools performing the worst would not receive what they in part need the most to improve: funds and stability.


The scale of measurement in the new plan will be based more on numerical progress rather than benchmarks, which again is healthier. But it does not really matter what type of scale is used if funds are withheld from the losers, as it would be harder for them to become winners. And, except for slight turnover, the vicious cycle would continue. The racial inequality would continue. America’s winners would continue to win. America’s losers would continue to lose.


Personally, I think the whole concept of rewarding the high performing schools with additional funds and punishing the low performing schools by making them ineligible to receive additional money should be scrapped. In professional sports, the worst teams receive the highest draft picks the next year in an attempt to equalize the leagues—not the other way around. If we want the schools to compete, then we have to level the playing field first.


There should be rewards and punishments for the best and worst schools. But just like parents should never reward or punish their kids through giving or taking away basic necessities—food, shelter, clothing—we should not bar the worst schools from what is vital to advancing their livelihood: funds. 


How can we punish a school without denying it the ability to receive extra funds to improve?  That is the looming and critical question educators and politicians must answer and institute in any new educational reformation program.


We should not expect a school to progress with less.


Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.

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