A month after the Obama administration released its blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), city and state officials gathered in Baltimore for a panel discussion on what that reform would mean for Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS).

Within the blueprint, the federal government expects college and career-ready standards to be implemented across the country, schools to be rewarded for making dramatic gains in student achievement, and states to consider national educational standards.

At the discussion on Monday, Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools; Gary Huggins, executive director of The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind; and Charmaine Mercer, senior education advisor of the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, shared their own visions for the new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

“One of the things that No Child Left Behind shows us is that student achievement means different things depending on where you are and that’s highly problematic,” Mercer said.

“It’s an atrocity to have them go through 12 years of school but can’t get a job or get into college.”

She does not know when ESEA will be reauthorized but is certain that when it is, college and career-ready standards will be a key revision. President George W. Bush signed the NCLB Act into law in 2000 with the hope of bringing all kids up to their reading and math levels by 2014. However, in a statement within the U.S. Department of Education’s blueprint to reform ESEA, Obama said the new goal is to ensure all kids are college and career-ready by 2020.

Under either administration, Huggins said the most important impact of NCLB is that it makes sure there are no more “invisible” students.

“We need to maintain strong accountability for all students and make sure we don’t return to having invisible children by requiring action be taken on the account of all kids,” he said.

In order to accomplish this, Huggins said a more “sophisticated” use of student data and greater autonomy for school leaders to decide on appropriate interventions for students are necessary.

“We need to have student achievement measurements as a key part of the discussion,” he said. “There needs to be flexibility in order to make local decisions.”
Huggins also said using certification to determine teacher qualification is “the wrong way to look at it.”

“Teachers’ ability to make change in the classroom is the best way to ensure teacher effectiveness,” he said, suggesting more professional development opportunities for teachers.

Mercer said that “buy-in” also creates effective teachers; teachers who have stable leadership that they believe in better assist with school transformation.

“Students who have access to great teachers do great work,” she said. “In addition to having an effective teacher, strong leadership is second to that at the school level and at the district level.”

She also added that there is “a lot of tension” between Republicans and Democrats at the federal level on what school improvement strategies will be implemented under the reauthorization. But Obama said the main goal is to have “great” teachers and principals in every school.

“To ensure the success of our children, we must do better to recruit, develop, support, retain, and reward outstanding teachers in America’s classrooms,” he said in a statement.

“My administration’s blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is not only a plan to renovate a flawed law, but also an outline for a reenvisioned federal role in education. This is a framework to guide our deliberations and shared work—with parents, students, educators, business and community leaders, elected officials, and other partners—to strengthen America’s public education system.”