Friday, November 4, 2011

Broader, Bolder Approach to Federal Education Reform

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were busy debating the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Thursday Oct. 20. Just a few blocks away in downtown Washington, education advocates were simultaneously pushing ideas for more-encompassing and comprehensive education policy reform.

Speaking on a panel discussion titled “Federal Funding for Broader Bolder Approach to Education: How ESEA and pending legislation affect (limit) comprehensive reform” sponsored by the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, panelists said that for too many years, education reform has narrowly focused on student testing as a gauge for success. That begged the question: How can education policy can affect a broader approach to reform?

The panelists included Institute for Educational Leadership President and Coalition for Community Schools Director Marty Blank, Molly McCloskey from ASCD Whole Child Initiative, founder of Forum for Youth Investment ‘Ready by 21’ initiative Merita Irby, and National Assembly for School-Based Health Care President Linda Juzsczak (all Coalition partners).

Each elaborated on why schools alone cannot turn the tide on educating children, especially for disadvantaged students. So many factors outside a traditional school system’s control, such as health, lack of community support, and fewer enrichment opportunities affect individual students’ paths to success.

The panelists and moderators pointed out several promising pieces of legislation currently on the table that could clear the path for bolder educational system, including the Supporting Community Schools Act, the Full Service Schools Act, the DIPLOMA legislation, Promise Neighborhoods legislation, and the Early-Learning Challenge Grant. Linda pointed out that there has been a significant increase in school-based health centers.

It’s an encouraging sign that more-comprehensive approaches to educating and nurturing the nation’s children are being considered – that there is a greater belief and recognition in addressing the whole child.

As Marty pointed out, more incentives for partnerships need to be anchored into education policy (read more about the Coalition’s recommendations for ESEA here).

Garnering the political momentum to get these substantive reforms will take even greater collaboration, especially on data sharing across agencies such as HUD and other social service agencies, Molly McCloskey said.

Even still, panelists said that success will not be gauged through how much better students perform on standardized tests alone but community and social gains as well.

"We in the education field do a disservice when we look at kids as 'brains on a stick'," Irby said.

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