Consider all evidence on NO Child Left Behind

An open letter asking the Committee on Education & Labor to broaden the testimony and evidence being considered for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind).  It asks that unintended but likely negative consequences of the proposed policies be considered.  It also asks that progressive and democratic educational traditions be considered as alternatives that would avoid these negative consequences while improving the educational experiences of all students.  This letter will be delivered to the Committee by email on March 26, 2010.  Inappropriate or offensive comments will not be included.  Please forward this open letter to others who may want to sign on.  

Dear Chairman Miller: 

We are concerned educators, students, academics, parents, community members, and citizens, many of us working in our nations universities, community colleges, elementary schools, and high schools.  We write today to voice our concern with the vision of educational reform that is dominating public conversations, media coverage, and the work of the Education and Labor Committee.  Specifically we are concerned that research on the likely consequences of the policies that are being advocated for has been largely ignored, and that concrete progressive and democratic strategies for improving education for all students, supported by research, is not being considered.  We ask that this letter be considered by the Committee in its hearings on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

A substantial body of theory and research suggests that an approach to teaching and learning built around community engagement, with academic skills taught in the context of addressing the problems in their communities, rather than rote memorization, textbooks, worksheets, and high stakes testing, results in increased student engagement, learning, and improved outcomes.  More broadly, we know that scholars, such as John Dewey, have documented the shortcomings of approaches to education isolated from engaging with the world since the 1920s. Teaching young people academic skills, in the context of learning the life skills of community organizing and democratic political engagement, would develop a generation of young people who can provide the energy and leadership needed to build democratic social movements to address the problems in our nation.  For the Committee to not take testimony from scholars and other educators who can speak to these democratic and progressive educational traditions is to ignore much of the history and literature in the field of education, even as the lessons from the field are most pressingly needed. 

Research on both sides of the Atlantic, going back at least to the 1960s, documents that mainstream approaches to curriculum and pedagogy, particularly in the context of unequal economic opportunity, tend to alienate students from lower-income communities from their schools, contributing to the problems of school failure and dropping out.  The focus on raising test scores and other measures of accountability narrows both the curriculum and pedagogical approach in schools.  It also contradicts the consensus in the field, endorsed in mission statements of many schools and established in some state certification requirements, that teachers should be familiar with the literature in the field and prepared to individualize instruction as they reflect on their practice.  Schools across the nation have been consumed by teaching for the test, test preparation, and testing that goes on, in some cases, for weeks without end.  This is dramatically documented by Jonathan Kozol in his book The Shame of the Nation.

For these reasons we urge the Committee to hear testimony from Mr. Kozol, who can speak both to progressive and democratic traditions in education as well as to the harm that will continue to result from the policies being proposed for the reauthorization of ESEA.  We also urge the Committee to hear testimony from former Education Secretary, Dr. Diane Ravitch, once a major proponent of choice and accountability models for educational improvement, who now points to the lack of empirical evidence for such approaches.  There are many scholars, including Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billing, former President of the American Educational Research Association, who could broaden the testimony to the Committee.

The signatories of this letter can further assist the Committee in identifying scholars, educators, organizations, and research that addresses the democratic and progressive traditions in education, as well as that which addresses the likely unintended consequences of what is proposed for the reauthorization of ESEA.  We provide a sampling of such resources at the end of this letter.

We, the undersigned, urge the committee to broaden the testimony to include advocates for democratic and progressive approaches to education, to consider the educational literature that addresses this tradition, as well as that which points to the specter of unintended consequences resulting from the policies that are well on their way to being implemented by Congress, without, in our view, due consideration of consequences and alternatives. 

on progressive and democratic education

John Dewey (1916) Democracy and Education

William Heard Kilpatrick (1918) The Project Method                                   

Herb Kohl (1967) 36 Children

Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Ira Shor (1987) Critical Teaching and Everyday Life

Michael W. Apple and James A. Beane (1995) Democratic Schools

Sam Chaltain (2009) American Schools

El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice

Alternative Education Resource Organization

Progressive Education Network

Rethinking Schools

The Forum for Education and Democracy

on the unintended but negative impact of policies proposed in the reauthorization

Jeannie Oakes (1986) Keeping track

Linda McSpadden McNeil (2000) Contradictions of Control

Pauline Lipman (2003) High Stakes Education

Collaborative for Equity and Justice In Education

Center for Education at Rice University

on the complex issues contributing to school failure and the dropout problem

Al Stinchcombe (1964) Rebellion in a high school

Michelle Fine (1991) Framing drop outs

Jonathan Kozol (1992) Savage Inequalities

Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) Dreamkeepers

Angela Valenzuela (1999) Subtractive Schooling

Ken McGrew (2008) Eduction's Prisoners


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