Letter: Thanks from Fair Test for Chicago report

December 19, 2007

Dear Substance, Thanks for printing PURE and FairTest’s report , “Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation” (December 2007 Substance and on the web at http://www.fairtest. org/ ChicagoReport ExecSum 2007. html). I am grateful it will now get into thousands of hands and minds that it otherwise would not. Indeed, there are many important lessons to learn from the Chicago experience, and I think the report drew many of them. Folks around the country should pay attention to what is being done in Chicago. In writing this report we did not cover everything — and more has happened in the year since we wrote the report — but Substance has helped alert those willing to read and ponder, by publishing the report and in your ongoing coverage. We labeled “Renaissance 2010” as “NCLB Chicago style.” In addition to necessary changes in Chicago Public Schools, there are many far-reaching changes needed in the federal law. We can label that “fixing the law” or “scrapping the law,” but either way we mean getting rid of NCLB’s many destructive aspects and writing a new education law that positions the federal government to help, rather than undermine, real educational improvement. NCLB reauthorization has stalled and the current law will likely remain in place until well into 2009 if not into 2010. That means a lot more damage to schools, educators and children.

In the past few years, a visible opposition to NCLB has arisen, one that did not exist five years ago. This is a powerful base for winning dramatic changes in the federal law. It is now unlikely the law can be re-authorized without major changes — but what are the changes that should be won?

Those of us who believe the federal law must be overhauled to get rid of the “adequate yearly progress,” test-and-punish approach must continue our efforts to win these goals. But we also need to begin a wide-ranging discussion of what “we the people” want for our schools, how we are going to get it, and what role the federal government should play. That will be a difficult and contested discussion — it is often easier to figure out the “No” than the possibly multiple “Yesses.” The report’s ideas for improving schools are similar to the recommendations for NCLB overhaul made by the Forum on Educational Accountability, which I chair. FEA works to carry forward the ideas in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, now signed by 141 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, labor and civic organizations. (FEA materials are on the web at and FEA recognizes we need to do still more, to dig more deeply into what our organizations and their members want from schools, in order to present more powerful and comprehensive ideas for improving our system, from funding equity and adequacy to specific approaches educators can use as they find appropriate. We at FairTest focus on assessment issues, but we will continue to work with others in the effort to reshape federal, state and district education policy. I hope Substance will be one of those spaces in which ideas for a new federal law can be presented and discussed. We have a notable resistance; we now must think of both strengthening the resistance and moving toward transformation.

Those who wish to join in these efforts should also feel free to contact us at the contact points below. Monty Neill, Ed.D. Executive Director, FairTest

342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

617-864-4810 x 101; fax 617-497-2224