The commissioner of education for the state of Nebraska was in Iowa this week to speak at a conference on a well-known federal mandate. Doug Christensen gave a talk called "No Child Left Behind: A Vision for the Future or A Roadmap to Disaster?" Christensen believes the federal education policy is more disaster than vision.
Christensen says: "Regimentation of the system is not the way to do it, we’ve got to basically turn the schools loose." He says business and industry found out a long time ago that innovation is the way to improve quality and schools need to have that innovation. "Freezing our schools or shrink wrapping our schools with a test that leads to a state curriculum, that leads to prescriptive instruction, is not the way to get this work done," Christensen says.
Christensen says the plan for education has to be tailored to each individual district. He says the teachers need the ability to make those decisions based on the students in front of them. "They can’t be made in Lincoln, Nebraska, they can’t be made in Des Moines, they can’t be made in Washington, D.C., they need to be made in the classroom while that teacher is trying to teach that kid to a specific outcome," Christensen says.
While Iowa debates the idea of statewide education standards, Nebraska has taken a different approach under Christensen. Schools develop assessments at the local level to gauge the progress of students. Christensen says they then bring the test scores from the schools to the district, to the state instead of using a single state test. While they have statewide standards, he says the assessments are done on locally-based tests, as well as projects and portfolios and those types of things. Christensen says the local district assessments are checked by the state.
Christensen says to make sure the measures are common, every district has to put together a portfolio on the assessments and a panel of experts judges the tools used by the district to determine that they are aligned to the state standards. Christensen has been Nebraska’s commissioner of education since 1994.