Education policy: Sam Chaltain’s “Big Picture”

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Given President Obama’s declared intention to revisit NCLB for the next renewal of ESEA, it is clearly time for Kosers of all stripes to come forward with their proposals for changing the evaluative climate in which the schools operate.  I do think there could be more along these line, but an exemplary proposal is now online: Sam Chaltain’s “The Big Picture On School Performance.”  This, then, is a critical review of that piece.

(crossposted at Orange)  

Generally, education platforms are phrased abstractly, in terms of general ideals expressing educational aims.  Sam Chaltain’s recent piece in Huffington Post, “The Big Picture On School Performance,” isn’t all that different.  Chaltain is the National Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy, which appears to be an educational initiative supported by progressive people — worth a look.

The revisitation of NCLB (as suggested by the Obama administration) is an important opportunity to save the public schools from the game of musical chairs which has guided them after 2001.  Although I tend to agree with teacherken’s assessment of Arne Duncan — that “it could have been worse” — I do think we should regard now as the right time to start proposing education reforms, regardless of what the narrow visions of the “Race to the Top” happen to be, or of what Arne Duncan thinks.

Consider briefly Chaltain’s list of aims.

1) Achievement — now, one of the ways in which the Bush administration co-opted liberals into endorsing No Child Left Behind was the idea of “closing the achievement gap.”  The school systems tend to reproduce the American class structure because the wealthiest of American parents pass on advantages to their children, including the strategies and tactics for “school achievement.”  Thus, for the sake of promoting equity in American schooling, No Child Left Behind was promoted to liberals as a means of “closing the achievement gap” — reducing the disadvantage the children of poor parents have relative to the wealthy ones.  Chaltain seems to want to broaden the definition of “achievement” beyond test scores — a meaningful goal if one’s baseline is the current constriction of school “achievement” into high test scores.

2) Balance — here Chaltain is apparently looking for a measure of the overall variety offered by the school environment to each student.  Making “balance” as an “official” goal would improve schools which have sacrificed all of their other programs (e.g. music, PE, history, science, recess) in order to meet the “Adequate Yearly Progress” goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

3) Climate — to briefly summarize the plan outlined by the Center for Social and Emotional Education (as recommended by Chaltain), to improve school “climate” is to:

(a) promote students’ social, emotional and civic as well as intellectual competencies; and (b) improve the school climate by working toward a safe, caring, participatory and responsive school community.

This would go a certain distance toward one of the aims I outlined in my first diary of this year on this topic: giving power over the schools to those who must live with the schools — the parents, the teachers, the students.

4) Democratic process — here Chaltain emphasizes, vaguely, “preparing young people to be active and responsible citizens in a democracy,” though I would recommend going further and having schools eventually adopt the principles of “free schools.”  Democracy is meant to be applied.  Teaching civics to young people without giving them any power over their own lives is likely to produce adults who participate anemically in empty “democracy,” of which people can say that “it’s better than dictatorship.”

5) Equity — this goal of Chaltain’s seems pretty carefully tied to 1) Achievement, though I would argue that, ultimately, Chaltain’s idea of “reducing the predictive value sociocultural and economic characteristics have on student achievement” will have to be accomplished by strengthening the safety net which assures the provisions of basic life-necessities for Americans.  You aren’t going to get “equity” if some parents are struggling to make ends meet while others have adopted competitive parenting tactics in preparing their children for school.


So there are Chaltain’s ideas for better goals for the schools, summarized, with some of my considerations added to the mix.  In summary, Chaltain’s goals seem meaningful and proactive to me given the straitjacket that NCLB has made of schooling in America.  Now it’s time to read and hear what you all think.  Please comment below!


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  1. This is when the ideas are proposed and the campaign takes shape.  If you want any say as to how education in America is administered, this is the time to speak up.

    • RUKind on February 10, 2010 at 04:58

    I was born in a union family. I’ve been a member of two unions. That said, the teacher’s union is protecting a lot of truly incompetent people. There needs to be a pay mechanism that sets a base level and then adjusts for risk, reward, responsibility and results.

    The idea is that the teacher with the top tier students doesn’t automatically get the most.It could be the teacher with the bottom level students who manages to produce the best results, relative to the overall system.

    In the end, though, we all know it will be the teacher who kisses the principal’s ass the best and most. Life is life.

    Why do I bother thinking and writing about these things?

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