Paging Karl Rove

Alert the John DiIulio-Paul O’Neill message discipline squad! There is another off-message former Bush Administration official loose in the land! This time it’s former Assistant Secretary of Education Susan Neuman whose portfolio was elementary and secondary education. According to Education Week here’s what she told the International Reading Association last week:

Susan B. Neuman, who served as the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the Bush administration until January 2003, praised the law she helped implement for holding schools and teachers accountable for student achievement. But she also outlined what she sees as its unintended consequences.

Ms. Neuman said she worried that many of the nation’s most vulnerable children were still being left behind.

“In [the most disadvantaged schools] in America, even the most earnest teacher has often given up because they lack every available resource that could possibly make a difference,” said Ms. Neuman, who has returned to the University of Michigan, where she is a reading researcher.

“When we say all children can achieve and then not give them the additional resources” that are necessary to meet that goal, she said, “we are creating a fantasy.”

Like many presenters and participants at the May 3-6 event, Ms. Neuman also expressed worries that testing is taking valuable time away from instruction.

“We all know children are being tested too much. Let’s be honest,” she said.

Ms. Neuman added that too many schools are being identified as failing based on whether students perform on grade level, even if they are making progress with low-performing students.

“Too many schools are not making [“adequate yearly progress”] based on a statistical nuance and not on what is really happening in that school,” she said. “In Michigan, they are reconstituting schools, firing principals and teachers. … These are Draconian kinds of consequences.”

Current education policies, she suggested, often oversimplify the problems schools face, overgeneralize solutions, unfairly penalize schools with many struggling students, and do not adequately consider teachers’ views.

Many of the 300 attendees applauded when she challenged policymakers to spend more time in classrooms.

“That might change their perspective a little bit,” she said.

The conference was the first for Ms. Neuman in three years, when she stepped down as an IRA board member to take the federal appointment. “It’s lovely for the first time in a long time to have my own voice,” she said.

Exactly what part did she praise?

In any event, Eduwonk does not agree with every point (so the Bush crowd will surely hate it!) and some of this sounds like standard lines to jolly up an ideologically homogenous audience. But regardless, this one will be hard to lay off of so let the partisan hay fly! And, if this does get legs, let the betting start on when “clarifications” will be forthcoming!

Afterthought: Memo to Ed Week: This is buried in the middle of a typically tedious article about reading debates. Isn’t it worth a little more play (the quotes themselves not the tediousness of the reading debate, that’s old news) or were they really just throwaway lines?

Bonus Afterthought: Hmmm…which policymakers does she wish would spend more time in classrooms? Any of these policymakers perhaps?

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