Exclusive Interview with Professor Kenneth Wong
(Part 1 of 2)
Kenneth Wong, Director of the Urban Education Policy program at Brown University, recently discussed with Education Update the impact of the No Child Left Behind on school policy, the value of state academic standards and tests, and their role in measuring aptitude and setting high expectations for student performance, and the function the federal government and politicians should play in helping to affect school policy.
According to Professor Wong, the uncertainties in the global economy have influenced the way we think about education, especially in regards to questioning the academic priorities of education. . With a shrinking middle class, the education and economic priorities are threatening to weaken the value of a liberal arts education as well as our democracy because a democratic society is dependent on well-informed, well-rounded citizens to preserve our values. A liberal arts education teaches us to think and appreciate, and to develop values. Applauding institutions like MIT, which offers a world-renowned science program with a liberal arts and political science curriculum, satisfies preserving a liberal arts education while encouraging students to specialize. It is upon business leaders who must push and maintain the strength of institutions that, in the short term, yield results.
Wong also opines on the direction of education and the role that Mayor Bloomberg and local politicians should play in shaping school policy.
The mayor is in a unique position to assess the political, cultural, and economic climate in which schools struggle. A mayor’s experience in galvanizing competing interest groups on a state level helps him to navigate the myriad of complex social, political and economic factors that influence school reform. Mayors are in a unique position to shape the direction of school policy and to mediate in an educational climate saturated by the competing interests of teachers unions and school administrators, traditionalists and reformers. Mayors provide a valuable resource to help school administrators and policymakers to galvanize the interests of teachers unions, budget directors and administrators in an environment dominated by increasing economic and political pressures.
In negotiations, the mayor provides the context for educators, politicians and principals to set school budgets, effectively allocate economic resources, and create individualized curricula that can nourish potential in students on every level. From their unique purview, mayors can help to leverage the social, political, and human capital and soften political resistance against innovative programs.
Wong also talked about the positive and negative impact that NCLB has had on current education policy and on one of its stated goals of bridging the academic achievement gap. For instance, there are more thorough assessment tools available to help raise expectations so that every school would meet the proficiency standards by 2014. Although NCLB started during the Bush administration, the Obama administration has tweaked NCLB to bridge the gap between policy and practice given that the act was enacted in 2001.
Despite its weaknesses, NCLB has succeeded in challenging the education system to raise expectations and to help policy makers to identify failing schools. #