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August 12, 2009

Schoolhouse Rocked

It seems everyone has an idea about how to make education better.  The federal government thought it nailed the formula when No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2002.  We can all agree that no child should be left behind.  But, as a panel of education experts determined at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, after seven years, we’re still leaving some kids behind.

The first speaker quoted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when he said in Detroit earlier this year, “We need…radical new thinking.”  

“What do we mean by radical change?” asked panelist Pauline Lipman, who is a professor of educational policy studies and director of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Is it the change that has come to Chicago – and a few other cities around the country – that puts city mayors in charge of the school system?  Lipman is not convinced this is the right path.

In Chicago, she said many neighborhood schools were closed, even though “some of these schools were good.”  As a result, many elementary school students have had to walk to new schools through dangerous areas.

She feels that under the new system, the schools are lacking “community feel and input.”

In the end, she said, while the city has a vision of higher test scores and merit-based pay for teachers, education should really be about fully developing human beings and preparing students to grapple with the “profound problems of society.”

Beth Whittenbury, co-chair of the Public Education Committee of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Reponsibilities, echoed that sentiment.

“Every child should have an education that prepares them to become a successful, contributing member of society.  We need people who graduate from high school and can get jobs or go to college.  College is not for everyone,” said Whittenbury.  “So much of high school is based on getting into college.”

Carmen Daugherty is an attorney who represents parents and children in due process hearings and in Washington, D.C.’s District Court to ensure that appropriate educational services and placements are being offered to students. 

There are 11,000 students in Washington, D.C. that are classified as having some kind of special need.

“There are 200 complaints made each month,” said Daugherty, challenging the city’s refusal to conduct student evaluations or forgetting to provide appropriate placements for students.

Daugherty said a quality education is one that provides “equity of access and accountability.”

Kathryn Richtman, who manages the juvenile delinquency section of the Ramsey County (MN) Attorney’s Office prosecution division, spoke about the need to keep kids engaged in learning. 

“Thirty percent of public high school students fail to graduate on time,” she said. “There is an age at which kids start disengaging…usually when kids start to have multiple teachers and multiple classrooms.”

“There needs to be an adequate number of professionals, like social workers, in the schools to help students – not just hand them over to the criminal justice system,” said Richtman.

Based on the comments of the participants, moderator Sara Redfield, chair of the ABA Presidential Advisory Council’s Education Committee, came up with a short list of components for developing a quality education:

  •  Set goals:  kids need to become “good, productive citizens”
  • “Acknowledge kids for what they are and who they are”
  • Set up and expect “healthy outcomes,”
  • Implement “vigorous, high expectations and standards” for “life readiness, college or trades,”
  • Work with teachers – “reform with us and not to us.”
Learn More About:  Annual Meeting 2009