Over at TitleIderland Nancy Connor takes some time to respond to this Eduwonk post (which itself was in response to this post she penned).
I agree with her take on the School Improvement Grants- although I think the triage approach the SIG initiative takes makes sense, it’s the intervention strategy itself that needs a second look. But this graf is worth discussing:
Too often when a school was identified as needing restructuring under NCLB, the tendency was to go for the “any other major restructuring” option, which became a defacto way of shoving the problem under the rug. It was easy to say that having central office personnel spend more time in the school or replacing a principal who was retiring anyway met the letter of the law. It was a Band-Aid approach. The tougher options were avoided for many reasons, including the noted lack of will. But it is hard to assemble the will when many stakeholders regard the “restructuring” designation as illegitimate because of NCLB’s simplistic identification system. It is difficult to take a rating system seriously when a school that misses targets for a single group of kids gets the same “failing” grade as a school that misses virtually every target.
She’s clearly right on the first point, the tendency to take the easy way out by using the “any other major restructuring” option. Sara Mead wrote about this a few years ago. But when I wrote in my earlier post that, “…we have a serious failure of creativity, imagination, and of course political will. That’s not this law’s fault and it’s not going to be solved by any future law. Rather it’s cultural, deep-rooted, and demands real leadership from within the field.” Connor’s second-point is exactly what I was talking about. Don’t bemoan the law, instead explain and convince the stakeholders, convince the public, and/or change the politics to create a better environment for change. In too few places have local school leaders stepped-up and acknowledged that there is a serious problem – that the measuring stick might not be perfect but the persistently under-performing schools its identifying (and that’s hardly all of them but is more than 5 percent, by the way) do need serious interventions. Rather, the problems with the measuring stick are being used to shield schools – rhetorically and substantively – from interventions and even hard conversations and there is not enough leadership pushing past that.
In other words, state and local officials could differentiate more themselves and communicate more aggressively around this but they’re not. For all its problems I don’t think that is one you can fundamentally lay at the feet of No Child Left Behind or that just changing the law will fix.