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Andy Jones is a high school language arts teacher in Hawaii. The public school teachers in Hawaii have been energetic in stopping the worst extremes of the Race to the Top grant that the state received. This past spring, Hawaii dropped the test-based teacher evaluation that Race to the Top had forced on the state as a condition of winning RTTT funds. The money was all gone, and so was this bad idea.
Andy knows the history of American education, the cycles of criticism that follow one another, and he believes that the new federal law will give the state the ability to chart a better course than the one imposed by the Bush-Obama agenda of test and punish. I regret to say that his article is behind a pay wall, but I will share with you what he shared with me. In this time of doom-and-gloom, it is great to hear an optimistic forecast!
Alarm, overhaul, stagnation, denial, recognition. Repeat ad infinitum.
Students of educational history will recognize in these five words the cycle that has defined American school culture for decades.
Thirty-three years ago, the “A Nation at Risk” report rang the alarm of educational decline. Its clarion call for improved public education resounded for the next generation and led eventually to initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top – programs that inaugurated sweeping, possibly irreversible changes to schools and school communities across the country.
A consensus has now emerged that these changes have led to dismal failure — a consensus signaled by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which emphatically seeks to reverse the damage done, in part by giving states back the freedom to define and enact their own vision of 21st-century education.
On the heels of ESSA and the widespread discussion it has initiated, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has released a report that may prove as decisive as “A Nation at Risk.”
The title — “No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State” — is misleading in that it seems to announce a mere repeat of the alarmist tone of the “Nation” report, perhaps to be followed by a new round of dubious policy suggestions from non-educators.
However, in what must come as a welcome shock to educators accustomed to routine governmental denial of policy failure, “No Time to Lose” fully acknowledges the mistakes of the past 15 years and seconds the sustained criticisms of prominent researchers such as Diane Ravitch and Pasi Sahlberg. These and many others have analyzed the extensive Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports on international education and have concluded that the misguided “reforms” of the past years have had an overwhelmingly negative impact on American schools, leading to ever further decline internationally.
They have also highlighted an additional, sinister aspect of these “reforms,” which have involved the gradual removal of educational decisions from the purview of teachers and educators and the corresponding enrichment of educa- tional corporations profiting from the proliferation of mediocre materials and programs that schools are forced to use.
We are fortunate to be living in a state led by a governor who recognizes what is at stake and who has created a robust task force that is working to establish grassroots consensus as to what is best for Hawaii schools and the students they serve.
We are also fortunate to have an increasingly dynamic teachers union that has sponsored a teacher- written report, “Schools Our Keiki Deserve,” which echoes the advice of our top educational researchers as well as the urgent tone of “No Time to Lose.”
Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) officials have shown signs recently that they are beginning to veer away from the pattern of denial that for years has characterized state and district education departments across the country. They have, for instance, conceded the unhealthy aspects of standardized testing, and they have also begun to embrace the idea of whole-child education as practiced in the world’s top-performing school systems.
As the DOE continues revising the Strategic Plan which will guide Hawaii education over the course of the coming years, teachers and citizens should encourage DOE officials to fully embrace the sobering findings of “No Time to Lose,” the tremendous energy and wealth of ideas emerging from Gov. David Ige’s task force, and the “Schools Our Keiki Deserve” report.
The report outlines a plan that is fully in accordance with the best educational research — one that can and should be integrated into the blueprint of the document that will determine much of what happens in our schools.