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Succeeding Where Race To The Top And No Child Left Behind Have Failed

Tuesday, October 20, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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Every few years, there arises a new idea to save American public schools. Most recently they have been No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 and Race to the Top (RTTT) in 2009. NCLB sought to use standards and accountability to push students to proficiency. RTTT pushed states to evaluate their teachers in relation to their students' test scores, and implement merit pay. In addition, schools that continued to exhibit low test scores were to be reconstituted with new management and staff or turned into charter schools.


The $4.35 billion dollars championed by President Obama, and provided by the United States Department of Education, were designed to spur and reward innovation and reforms in states and school districts. Unfortunately, these types of programs seem to fail in providing our schools with the quality education every child deserves by stifling innovation and creativity. RTTT did little to improve equality of educational opportunity. In 2014, elementary, secondary, and vocational education only received 1.62% of federal tax dollars, and RTTT created a competition for those dollars.


Why is this strategy failing? You could assume that grants and financial funding would be enough incentive in aiding our schools to perform at the highest quality. Standardized tests provide important feedback on individual students which helps teachers meet the needs of those children. Policymakers probably never intended for test scores to be the only measure by which teachers are judged. It is that very idea of enforcing antiquated standards of learning-for-the test that has plagued many schools for the past decade. So how can our kids learn? What is the best way to educate the leaders of tomorrow?


In many schools across the nation, many educators are embracing the concept of culturally responsive teaching as a framework for their teaching style. Culturally responsive teachings are lessons and conversations that kids learn in the classroom and relate to what they experience in an everyday setting within their communities and the world around them. This tactic of using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance style opens up a sense of diversity for students to learn in more appropriate ways that can be effective for them throughout their academic careers. You connect the students in the classroom to the realities of what they know and where they live.


So how does it work? Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. How it works is by rethinking the overall framework of a lesson. While it is important to utilize the lesson plans and foundations for learning, incorporating outside, yet student-relevant information can be incredibly powerful to a teacher’s lecture and student’s engagement.


Take for example a lesson on natural disasters. Complementing your lesson with events such as the North American blizzard of 2008 that blanketed our state, or the Nashville Flood of 2010, considered a flood that occurs only every thousand years, can provide students a point of how to relate to the topic. Going even further and relating specific events to their lives will not only interest the students, but also enlighten them in enjoying the class.


While there needs to be much research invested in the idea of this pedagogy, the goal behind culturally responsive teaching is simple: it wants its students to develop their own voice that will allow them to be academically successful, critically conscious, and forces of change within their communities. However, before doing so, they need to see a future in which they are given the knowledge and foundation to make that influence. The power to read well, write analytically, and speak knowledgably will be their voice. This concept is only the beginning to something so great. It can build upon the ineffective campaigns of No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top and hopefully change our state and nation for the better.





Mike Sheppard serves as General Counsel forProfessional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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