Rachel's Notes: October 9, 2008

Last Updated: October 09, 2008

In recent months, the outline of a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act has begun to take shape. It will not be called No Child Left Behind and will likely go further in actually helping children learn.

Several reports and other commentary have begun to come together around greater investments in quality teaching; broader measures of accountability; scaling-up secondary school reforms that are working like those focusing on engaging students in challenging academic work connected to the real world and problem solving; expanding out-of-school learning opportunities; engaging the community as a resource for learning; and, increasing investment in early childhood learning. Here are four resources to review that provide more detail:

Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

Community Agenda for Public Schools

Former Education Secretary Richard Riley and Terry Peterson, "Before the 'Either-Or' Era," Education Week September 24, 2008

Forum for Education and Democracy Presentation

These documents have important implications for rural schools:

First, all of them call for more flexibility at local schools to create in-school and out-of-school learning opportunities for children that are appropriate to their communities. Although "rural" does not get mentioned much in these proposals, there is much less urban bias in requiring large numbers and centralized bureaucracies.

Second, while the emphasis stays on closing the achievement gap, there is much more attention to all of the resources that need to be brought together in a community system to affect the gap.

Third, there is much less emphasis on single tests in math and reading. Warren Simmons of the Annenberg Institute said at the announcement of the Community Agenda: "Those of us in the standards and accountability movement created a structure that aims too low and requires too little. All the while, we chastised others for their low expectations. That needs to change."

Finally, the emphasis is much more on helping educators do well rather than punishing those who do wrong.

Now, this is not to say that utopia has arrived. Those of us who care about rural schools still have to get the unfair Title I formula fixed so that it stops penalizing poor rural districts just because they are small. And, we have to get the details right regarding teacher investments so that the serious shortages of ELL and others teachers in rural schools are addressed. In addition, we have to make certain that support for community partnerships takes into account rural circumstances and does not focus solely on the urban situation.

So there's lots of work to do but I am hopeful.

As always, keep in contact.

Rachel Tompkins