"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, September 21, 2007

John Edwards Offers Detailed, Sane Education Plan

Issued today, this Edwards plan is the most impressive of all the presidential wannabes. And it actually has references, which is totally unheard of.

Here is one clip of the plan:
Making Every School an Outstanding School

Every child in America should have the chance to attend an outstanding public school that has high expectations for every child. Children need to master both basic skills in reading, writing and math and advanced thinking skills like creativity, analytic thinking and using technology. We cannot tolerate the benign neglect of our schools. No Child Left Behind has lost its way by imposing cheap standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum at the expense of science, history, and the arts and mandating unproven cookie-cutter reforms on schools. As a result, it has lost the support of teachers, principals, and parents, whose support is needed for any reform to succeed.

John Edwards believes that we need to overhaul No Child Left Behind to center our schools around children, not tests, and help struggling schools, not punish them. He will:

Overhaul No Child Left Behind: The law must be radically changed to live up to its goal of helping all children learn at high levels, accurately identifying struggling schools, and improving them. Its sole reliance on standardized, primarily multiple choice reading and math tests has led schools to narrow the curriculum. Its methodology for identifying failing school can be arbitrary and unfair. And it imposes mandatory, cookie-cutter reforms on these schools without any evidence they work. Edwards supports:

Better tests: Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards believes that we must invest in the development of higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments.

Broader measures of school success: Edwards believes that the law should consider additional measures of academic performance. The law should also allow states to track the growth of students over time, rather than only counting the number of students who clear an arbitrary bar, and give more flexibility to small rural schools.

More flexibility: Edwards will give states more flexibility by distinguishing between schools where many children are failing and those where a particular group is falling behind. He will also let states implement their own reforms in underperforming schools when there is good reason to believe that they will be at least equally effective.

Launch a “Great Schools” Initiative to Build and Expand 1,000 Successful Schools: Across America, there are public schools that are helping children from all backgrounds succeed, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, small schools, and other models. Edwards will help 250 schools a year expand or start new branches. Federal funds will support new buildings, excellent teachers, and other needs. Among the schools he will support are:

Small schools: Small high schools create stronger communities, reducing adolescent anonymity and alienation and encouraging teachers to work together. At 47 new small high schools recently opened in New York City, graduation rates are substantially higher than the citywide average. Communities can establish multiple schools within an existing facility, build new schools, and reopen old facilities. [Aspen Institute, 2001; N.Y. Times, 6/30/2007]

Early college high schools: High schools on college campuses let students earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree (or two years of transfer credit) in only five years. In North Carolina, Governor Mike Easley’s Learn and Earn initiative raises rigor and aspirations, reduces tuition costs, and relieves overcrowded college campuses. [American Institutes for Research and SRI International, 2007; Easley, 2007]

Economically integrated schools: While income diversity is not a substitute for racial diversity, low-income students perform best when in middle-class schools where they are more likely to have experienced teachers and classmates with high aspirations. States can build magnet schools in low-income communities and create incentives for middle-class schools to enroll more low-income children. [Kahlenberg, 2007; Harris, 2006; NY Times, 7/15/05]

Create a School Success Fund to Turn Around Struggling Schools: Improving our worst schools is going to take more than federal mandates of unproven remedies; it will require a serious commitment of resources. A new School Success Fund will:

Let experts design and implement reforms: Based on North Carolina’s successful reform, Edwards will ask teams of experienced educators to spend a year at struggling schools helping start reforms. These educators will tailor comprehensive solutions to each school, rather than adopting silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions.

Provide resources to implement them: Some schools need more resources to help their children succeed. The School Success Fund will target resources to the neediest schools. Resources will be available to recruit new school leadership and a core of excellent teachers, reduce class sizes, duplicate proven models, strengthen the curriculum, and other reforms.

Emphasize extra learning time: Due to our 180-day school year, American children spend much less time in class than their foreign competitors. Many other countries have 25 percent more instructional time, which adds up to more than two years by the end of high school. When combined with making better use of learning time and designed with educators, longer school days and years create new opportunities for children to master the basics and a broader curriculum. [ED in 08, 2007; Zimmerman, 1998; CAP, 2006]

Establish stronger academic and career curricula: The rigor of high school classes is the number-one predictor of college success. Even students who do not go to college need strong math and reading skills in the workplace. Edwards believes that all schools – even those in small, isolated, and high-poverty areas – should have access to challenging Advanced Placement courses. And he will support partnerships between high schools and community colleges to help high school students get the training they need for the good jobs where skilled workers are in short supply today. [US Department of Education, 1997; ACT, 2006; ED in 08, 2007]

More Resources for Poor and Rural Schools: Four out of five urban school districts studied nationally spend more on low-poverty schools than on high-poverty schools. Rural schools enroll 40 percent of American children – including most children in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina – but receive only 22 percent of federal education funding. Edwards will increase federal Title I funding and dedicate the increases to low-income schools and districts and rewarding states that distribute funding where it is needed most to increase learning. He will also invest in distance education and cutting-edge software to bring the promise of new learning technologies to remote areas. [NASBE, 2003; Rural School and Community Trust, 2007; Digital Promise, 2003]

Meet the Promise of Special Education: More than thirty years ago, Congress committed to fund 40 percent of the excess cost of educating children with disabilities, but it provides less than half that amount. George Bush has proposed a $300 million cut. Edwards opposes the Bush cuts and supports getting on a path toward meeting the federal promise. [Committee for Education Funding, 2007]

Raise Graduation Rates: Almost a third of all students drop out of school before earning a high school diploma, and rates among children of color or from low-income families are higher. At nearly 2,000 high schools nationwide – called “dropout factories” – more than 40 percent of students won't graduate. Edwards will create multiple paths to graduation such as Second Chance schools for former dropouts and smaller alternative schools for at-risk students. He will focus on identifying at-risk students and support the Striving Readers literacy program and one-on-one tutoring to keep them in school. Edwards will also fund additional guidance counselors in high-poverty schools. [Baron, 2005; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007; Balfranz and Legters, 2004; NCES, 2004]

Support High School Service Programs: The energy and enthusiasm of high school students who want to make their community and their country a better place to live. One type of service program, service-learning, has been shown to have positive impacts on students’ civic engagement, college enrollment, career development, and personal relationships. Nearly half of school-age children lack the activities and role models that are opportunities to make a difference through helping others. Edwards will create a Community Corps service programs for high school students. It will provide resources to high schools that choose to make community service a graduation requirement, helping them make service opportunities higher in quality and integrate them into the curriculum. [NYLC, 2006; America’s Promise Alliance, undated] . . . .


  1. I don't see many of these ideas as being impressive.

    North Carolina is not known for its excellent schools but its overbearing reliance on test scores, to the detriment of any serious learning. One handy fact Joh Stossel forgot to mentinon was those low SAT scores were a result of kids spending years in test prep factories. Guess he was too busy blaming the evil teachers unions.

    Also, is the Zimmerman referenced the same Zimmerman of Direct Instuction? Who had to buy their way into sales through the Reading First program?

  2. Anonymous6:27 AM

    Sorry, but anyone who thinks, "Every child in America should have the chance to attend an outstanding public school," while maybe well-intentioned, is so full of pie-in-the-sky that they can't be taken seriously.

    Maybe they should send their children to school in Lake Woebegon, where, "all the children are above average."

    Seriously, don't overhaul the chillingly misnamed, "No Child Left Behind" act. Burn it. Pour gas on it, incinerate it, scatter the ashes, then start again with something that isn't based on making drones of children, parents, teachers, and everyone else under the $100,000 a year salary level.

    This act is so fundamentally flawed, there is no saving it.

    Edwards may be a nice guy, but he hasn't been in the trenches, and need not be taken seriously on education. Yet. He may be able to learn if people close to him get him the message. Any takers?

    For more info, check out No Child Left Untested at the MathMojo Chronicles.