I get it, NCLB used and promoted a deficit model for education and school improvement; however, I wonder about the individual and collective capacity of states to shepherd the critical work of improving the educational outcomes of children. I wonder about the impact of the restricted (and in some cases eliminated) role of the federal government in education. The triumph and challenge of the new law is it empowers each state to develop its own system of determining school and educator effectiveness. Students will be tested each year in reading and mathematics from grades three to eight and once again in high school. The results will be reported by demographic groups (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, ability).
Tom Gentzel, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, believes "state governments need to step up and do their part to support the work of local school districts". The ink from the president's signature has barely dried and many are already settling into a relaxed comfort knowing the federal government won't be breathing down anyone's neck with the new legislation. States and districts are empowered to build something better, but will they? I believe the "Every Student Succeeds" Act, which impacts just over 50 million students and their nearly 3.5 million teachers, will require state governments and local boards of education to demonstrate culturally courageous leadership (CCL).
According to John Robert Browne II, CCL is "doing what is necessary to achieve true educational equity and excellence in classrooms and schools, and not just talking about it. Another way of putting it is practicing what you preach, so to speak. It is much easier said than done. [CCL] in a nutshell means leadership that challenges any personal and organizational practices that are anti-democratic and discriminatory at best, and racist at worse. It is taking calculated data-based risks to confront and change norms that do not support cultural democracy."
A culturally courageous leader essentially makes student-centered decisions. At the district level, the superintendent who reconfigures next year's budget allocations in light of a recent equity study is demonstrating culturally courageous leadership. At the school level, the department chair who reassigns the Advanced Placement teacher most effective at reaching struggling students to teach nine grade "repeaters" is demonstrating culturally courageous leadership. At the classroom level, the third grade teacher who reviews classroom behavior data and co-creates class expectations and procedures with students is demonstrating culturally courageous leadership. In the community, the advocate who crunches student data to ask school board members probing questions about mastery learning for all children is demonstrating culturally courageous leadership.
I wonder about the leaders of our roughly 100,000 public schools asking thorny questions, making difficult decisions (and managing those decisions), and walking the talk for our precious children. I've seen what large urban, small rural, and sprawling suburban districts chose to do when reins are removed or capacity is limited...and we have a deliciously perfect storm of both and more now. I wonder the most about what may happen with persistently lower performing schools where states and districts have historically created a revolving door of "turnaround" educators who often get less than two years to transform a school before shuffling (or getting shuffled) along. These are places where test result gaps are often the greatest and length of educator tenure is usually the shortest. These are places where well-meaning substitutes with varying skill levels fill-in for days, weeks, or months teaching within (but at many times beyond) their subject expertise. Will districts and states "Do The Right Thing" as culturally courageous leaders or will we be teleported to 1954 Topeka and move "with all deliberate speed"? I wonder.