Friday, October 24, 2008
CCHS principal speaks out for reform
Peter Badalament, Principal of the Concord Carlisle High School, is a strong advocate for changes to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, which is up for reauthorization next year. In September he attended a conference in Washington, D.C., “The Leadership for Effective Advocacy and Policy Institute,” sponsored by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), and afterward went around with four other members of the ASCD Massachusetts affiliate to visit several congresspeople to encourages more flexibility, a range of testing tools and an expansion of resources for education.
The ASCD conference is held annually, and according to Badalament, helps educators “leverage their knowledge of effective classroom learning and teaching strategies to advocate for sound education policies.” Donna Brazil, who served as campaign manager for Al Gore, and Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant, were speakers at the convention this year. Afterward, Badalament and the Massachusetts group met with Representative Niki Tsongas, who was “extremely gracious and gave our delegation a half an hour of her time.” Other visits included the offices of Senator John Kerry and Senator Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts House of Representatives members John Tierney, of the 6th District; Barney Frank, of the 4th District; and. Frank Delahunt, of the 10th District.
Schools need resources and flexibility, says Badalament. One of the greatest failings of NCLB is funding. When the legislation passed, it was promised that 40% of the mandates would be funded. In reality, only 5% have been. “The federal government should really provide full funding for many mandates they’ve issued (Special Education and No Child Left Behind)” and also “provide money for high school reform,” Badalament says. Currently, only six to seven cents of each budget dollar goes to education. “It’s a tough sell these days,” he says, noting that voters list education as seventh on their list of priorities. But as a result, “Too many U.S. classrooms, schools and districts struggle to attract the best and the brightest.”
Badalament says the NCLB Act also misses the boat when it comes to student evaluation. “Assessing the performance of our students requires more than standardized tests in the two or three subjects currently required.” He argues for multiple measures of achievement and a growth model that compares current to past performance. He says Rhode Island is a state that has been able to implement an innovative portfolio model of assessment. He would like to see something similar brought to Massachusetts, but notes a small state like Rhode Island, with only thirty school districts, can experiment more easily than Massachusetts, which has over 300.
He also argues for multiple measures of school performance that include student advancement, attendance records and graduation rates, and is against the current punitive approach to failing schools. He says government should “provide assistance directly to the groups in need, without applying broad sanctions to the entire school or district.”
Badalament advocates for legislative changes that will reverse “the startlingly high dropout rates, lack of student engagement and inadequate flexibility that stifle rather than promote innovation in our nation’s high schools.” He points to the Compass program at CCHS as an example of an initiative that is reducing the incidence of students dropping out. Under the program, a small group of students receive mentoring and flexible schedules tailored to their needs. Those schedules may include credit for work experience. Currently eight at risk students are in the program.
Badalament asks voters to care. “Between now and November 4, find out where each presidential candidate stands on the issues outlined above. Will the candidate I choose turn political rhetoric about ‘investing in the future of our children’ into reality? Will he support policies that promote the success of each child?” And, he suggests, let legislators know if you support changes to the NCLB Act. ∆
© 2008 The