Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

No Child Left Behind and Education Reform

Nicole Baker Fulgham, David Larsen


February 4, 2011??

We asked a few Capital Commentary contributors to respond to the question, "As Congress considers reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act), what are the most important improvements that need to be made in federal education policy?"

Study after study has revealed that the most important school-based factor in determining student success is the quality of a child’s classroom teacher.  Given that, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act must prioritize robust teacher evaluation and feedback systems.  

The vast majority of teachers in this country are hardworking professionals who want all of their students to achieve at high levels.  But too often a district’s evaluation system is cursory, at best, and doesn’t provide any quality feedback to help teachers improve. Teachers may only receive one evaluation during the school year, which is unlikely to create any meaningful change in classroom instruction.  Principals want to provide more professional development for their teachers, but they are often overloaded with administrative matters—so teachers, and ultimately students, suffer.

A high-quality, multi-faceted teacher evaluation system needs several layers—including detailed classroom observations (linked to a clear framework of what successful teaching looks like) and student achievement results (i.e. how much did student learning grow during a school year with this particular teacher). It must also feed directly into rigorous professional development opportunities that clearly align with the areas in which a teacher needs to improve.  Only then will we have a fair and equitable evaluation system that will drive teacher performance and student achievement.

Nicole Baker Fulgham is Vice President of Faith Community Relations at Teach For America.

There is much to like about the “Blueprint for Reform,” the Obama administration’s recommendation regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  It offers comprehensive, systematic solutions to systemic problems in government education, and emphasizes the role of teacher and leader effectiveness.

Like the original legislation in 1965, the Blueprint centers on a call for justice and equity. The overarching goal is to “prepare all students to be successful both in college and in the workplace,” with particular focus given to the nation’s lowest performing schools. It also leaves no child behind as a “moral imperative.”

What it says is important. It sees the federal government as analogous to venture capitalists providing seed money, accountability, and incentives to states for improving education.

What it doesn’t address is equally significant for the future of education in the U.S. If, as Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan states, education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and ESEA will determine to what degree the nation succeeds in bringing about equity, then missing entirely is a discussion of the role of private and faith-based education existing for the public benefit, and the possibility of parents choosing non-governmental schooling. Such schools in very many cases are already doing the work the Blueprint suggests. Why not support parents in their choice, and let them decide where justice in education and effectiveness already exists? The Blueprint limits school choice primarily to the charter movement. That’s not enough change to believe in.

David Larsen is Director of The Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”