Ladd Leads Policy Task Force Calling for New Approach to Education Reform

With advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post a 60-member task force of national policy experts announced a“Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” campaign to break a decades-long cycle of reform efforts that promised much and have achieved far too little.

ClassroomCo-chaired by Helen Ladd, Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy Studies and economics at Duke University, Pedro Noguera, a sociologist at New York University, and Tom Payzant, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and former U.S. assistant secretary of education, the task force points to the many flaws in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and the nation’s policy errors in relying solely on school improvement to raise achievement levels of disadvantaged children. The group’s complete statement and recommendations are available online www.boldapproach.org.

“Schools can’t do it alone,” said Ladd. “Accountability is a pillar of our education system, but schools need the support of the community--both before children arrive at school and during their school years--for all children to achieve high standards.”

The task force’s statement points out that the rhetoric of NCLB ignores the reality of the achievement gap. Multitudes of children are growing up in circumstances that hinder their educational achievement. Some schools have demonstrated unusual effectiveness, but even high-achieving schoolscannot, by themselves, close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds on the full range of academic and non-academic measures.

The release of a “Broader, Bolder Approach” comes after months of gridlock in Washington tied to the reauthorization of NCLB. The statement signed by more than 60 leaders in education, public policy, social welfare and civil rights is intended to provide a fresh way of thinking about education and youth development policy for governors, state and federal legislators, now running for election.

“After six years, it has become clear that No Child Left Behind has not succeeded in improving the quality of education available to America's neediest children. This Task Force is united around the need for a more comprehensive approach to federal policy that specifically responds to the needs of children and schools in low-income areas,” said Co-Chairman Noguera.

“A Broader, Bolder Approach” applies equally to federal, state and local policy. Specifically, the statement calls for:

  1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need to reduce class sizes in early grades for disadvantaged children; attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.
  2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, preschool and kindergarten care and education.  These programs must not only help low-income children academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.
  3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and by poor parents’ inability to miss work for children’s routine health services.
  4. Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.

The release of “A Broader, Bolder Approach for Education” marks the beginning of a long-term effort to persuade federal, state and local policymakers to adopt a more enriching framework to support every child’s education.

Convened by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, the task force was charged to consider the broader context of the NCLB law in the nation's approach to education and youth development policy. The task force drafted a statement, adopted unanimously, charging that the nation has erred by relying on school improvement alone to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children. To read the full statement and view the list of signers with their biographical information, please visit www.boldapproach.org.