Despite all the rhetoric about the “Nation At Risk” report I never hear anyone actually refer to the contents of the report itself, as in “as the Nation At Risk report found…” Rather, the most common way the report is cited is with the modifier “since” as in “since the Nation At Risk report…” It’s really mostly a timepiece to track the chronology of education reform.

3 Replies to “Timepiece”

  1. Even when we were listening to Milton Goldberg speak yesterday at the Press Club, he spent most of his time not describing the recommendations, but recounting the history of A Nation at Risk–the events leading up to it. Goldberg spent more time pushing back the timeline–resituating the report, to force us to acknowledge that “everything old is new again” is older than 25 years old–than he did discussing the report itself.

  2. This makes sense. We all have our memory benchmarks:

    * Where we were when the shuttle exploded.

    * Where we were when 9/11 happened.

    * Where we were when we heard Paris Hilton was arrested.

    ANAR is just a good education benchmark. Now, we would all know it a lot better if Schoolhouse Rock had released its musical version of A Nation at Risk in fifteen 3-minute vignettes, but ABC refused to release it citing “creative differences” and “really, really bad television and doggeral lyrics.”

  3. Since we can’t post comments to the Quick and the Ed, I figured this would be a good spot.

    Tom Toch wrote:

    “… – rigorous national standards. Make them voluntary. Give states and school systems different ways of measuring their progress against the standards by sanctioning a number of different national examination boards (the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams are good models). And reward educators for meeting the new standards (NCLB only punishes schools for not meeting state standards, which encourages states to keep standards low because they don’t want a lot of their schools labeled as failures).”

    Obviously, an incentives-driven approach could become essentially the same as today’s puntitive approach. But people of good will could devise plenty of systems along the lines of Toch’s suggestion.

    Toch’s position is very close to Jim Ryan’s equally sensible approach to NCLB II. Of course, people who know more about the details would need to analyze the incentives schedule, but my opposition to NCLB would basically disappear if we adopted Toch’s suggestion. Showcase that position, and I’d think that opposition by teachers would shrink. I’d want my union to be very cooperative in reauthorization. On the whole, I’ve preferred the NEA’s position of NCLB, but if they couldn’t support an incentives-driven accountability system, I’d risk a split in labor solidarity.

    And if you guys would just put a muzzle on Kevin Carey, a deal should be easy! Just kidding. If I don’t put my union on blast for supporting my wife’s candidate for president, I can handle Carey’s excesses!

    Semi-seriously though, we should run this by our respective cognitive scientists (the AFT always publishes a particularly great one.) We need to re-draft the law in a way that minimizes the chances that people will respond in destructive ways. A cardinal rule of teachers is “Its not what you SAY. Its what they HEAR.” Even when NCLB was drafted, it was clear that it would promote destructive levels of test prep, narrowing of the curriculum, and a search for loopholes. But it is only in hindsight that we see how destructive its been. Changing from an accountability system based on punitive measures to incentives will not solve all of our problems. We in the districts will still need to do the heavy lifting in replacing the quick fixes encouraged by NCLB I with reality-based policies.

    And if we need more reson for optimism, then we can reread Toch’s subsequent paragraph.

    “But improvement can’t merely be imposed on schools from the outside. Schools are complex social enterprises; their success depends on thousands of daily personal interactions. They are, in the end, only as good as the people in them and the culture in which those people work. So it’s crucial to get everyone in a school community invested in a school’s mission. Ownership is key. That comes from giving schools autonomy—in staffing, budgeting and instruction. From giving families a chance to choose their public schools. And from school leadership that promotes a strong sense of school identity and clear expectations of success. Reform has to come from the inside-out as well as the outside-in. There’s a human side of school reform that we ignore at our peril.”

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