Let’s play a word association game. I’ll write something and when you read it, record the first thought that comes to your mind.
Here goes: No Child Left Behind.
OK, be honest, how many of you immediately flashed to one of the following: bad law; too much testing; too many requirements; and my favorite, how dare a bunch of non-educators tell us the best way to do our jobs.
I’m aware that by a conservative count, most educators don’t agree with or like the new bill. But did anyone think of this word instead: opportunity.
That’s right, opportunity, as in, ‘Hey, this bill really could open up a chance for me to improve the way our district teaches children.’
If you didn’t come up with this answer, and don’t believe it’s true, consider the case of New York City. In the country’s biggest school district, and some would argue the toughest to change, officials recently started a new tutoring program. Their impetus: requirements in No Child Left Behind.
The law states that 5 percent of the district’s Title I money must be set aside to give children in failing schools more instructional time. New York City decided to create a tutoring program for the 240,000 students in this category. (This being New York City, the program got off to a rough start when many children failed to sign up for the program, and critics blamed the school system for poor notification.)
But one person who knows something about tutoring, applauded the district for using the law to create a new program. “There’s an opportunity to be creative around the law,” says Seppy Basili, the vice president of Kaplan Test Prep’s pre-college division. “That’s the change the law wanted to inspire.
“Local districts have been clamoring for more control. [This bill] tells you the parameters of the field and asks for a level of responsibility,” Basili says.
Libia S. Gil, the former superintendent of the Chula Vista (Calif.) Elementary School District, takes this argument a step further. “The predominant majority of my colleagues are in the whining mode, playing the role of victims,” says Gil, now chief academic officer of New American Schools. “I share so many of their concerns. You can only whine for so long. You can either be a victim or a leader. It can be a wonderful, incredible opportunity or an absolute disaster. We get to decide.
“I worked hard not to allow state and now federal laws to intrude on what I wanted to accomplish [at Chula Vista]. I thrive on ambiguous definitions,” she says.
Leadership, according to her definition, comes from administrators who don’t ask ‘What’s wrong and who can we blame?’ but instead say, ‘What’s our goal and how do we get there?’
That sounds like opportunity to me.
Wayne D’Orio, Editorial Director