No Child Left Behind—The Implications for Educators
A conversation between Big6 co-founder Mike Eisenberg
and MultiMedia Schools editor Ferdi Serim
MultiMedia Schools • September 2002
As predicted, shockwaves from the No Child Left Behind legislation are spreading throughout the field of education. Since vendors' livelihoods depend upon responding to the needs of the market, they were the first to engage with the complexities of "scientifically based research" as well as the first to incorporate these three simple words, which have already become a marketing mantra. Schools were already feeling the confusion as last school year ended, perfecting their "deer caught in the headlights" look as the legislation suddenly called into question which students, from poorly performing schools, would be attending different schools, and how the newly mandated transportation costs would be covered. The challenge of avoiding the misuse of assessment tools for punitive accountability has already conditioned administrators into a "twitch response" when they hear the words "adequate yearly progress."

In this feature, MultiMedia Schools editor Ferdi Serim joins in a conversation with Mike Eisenberg, co-creator of the Big6 process for information-based problem-solving, to bring clarity about what No Child Left Behind means to us as educators and professionals, no matter which role we play in our schools. Since Mike would probably first ask us to define the task (Big6 #1—Task Definition), here it is: The task for this special feature is to prepare you to assist your school district in meeting the challenges of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

FS: Mike, I've learned from working with you and other Big6'ers that almost any problem that's based on information is a candidate for the Big6 approach. How do you think the Big6 can help us respond to the challenges of No Child Left Behind?

ME: Thanks for the easy question first. You know what I'm going to say: It's a matter of Big6 #1, Task Definition. This is a really complex problem; there's no simple solution. So, the first thing to do is to sort out the elements and define the tasks. For example, there are several areas of "new ground" for educators to learn about. Scientifically based research has been gathering for 30 years concerning how the brain works, and how people learn. However, this research was written for other researchers and not presented in a way that can guide our daily work in classrooms. So, that's part of our task—to look into what is known, combine it with what we know about learning and teaching, and synthesize new knowledge that is applicable and relatively easy to understand.

Another example: We know that student performance improves when we shape instruction based on timely data on what's working (and what's not) for each child. The newly required annual standardized tests can provide some, but not all, of the data we need in order to know whether we are reaching every child. We need to look into this further to see what the standardized tests can tell us and what they can't.

FS: So that would mean we might have simultaneous efforts, each using Big6 as appropriate. Some of us will need to review the research, to see what guidance it may provide, as we design instruction. Others of us need to explore our options for assessment, so we can do the "course corrections" as we go, based on daily feedback we gather from student performance. Still others of us will need to study the legislation itself, to see how the requirements and our best professional judgments can be brought closer together.

ME: Exactly. And, that's why it's a team effort. In a previous article in Multimedia Schools ("Call to Action: Getting Serious About Libraries and Information in Education," by Mike Eisenberg and Carrie Lowe, MultiMedia Schools, March/April 1999, p. 18+; http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/mar99/eisenberg.htm), we stressed the need to form IT teams at each building. Some of the tasks you've mentioned are best tackled by the principal—for example, adequate yearly progress, impact on school enrollment, providing appropriate professional development. Some of them belong with the library media specialist—working with all teachers to align instruction and curriculum, helping students improve their performance by becoming better users of information. Some belong with classroom teachers—learning to see trends in student performance, trying different approaches until they find a way to reach each kid. Some belong with the technology specialist—making sure the school technology supports collaboration among teachers, administrators, and parents so that each can help kids gain skills where needed to perform better. It's also why Big6 provides a powerful tool, because it is recursive, not linear. We keep revisiting each aspect as new information and developments require us to do so, until we have an approach with which we are comfortable and confident.

FS: That's a daunting task. I see how breaking it down makes it more manageable and less scary, although this type of collaboration is also new territory for most schools. How will we know where to look for the information we need?

ME: This is the bread and butter of information problem-solving: Information Seeking Strategies (Big6 #2) and Location and Access (Big6 #3). There are internal and external sources of information. Obviously the first is to look at the U.S. Department of Education requirements—see http://www.ed.gov/nclb. Then, I usually turn to my colleagues at AskERIC—e-mail to askeric@askeric.org or check out http://www.askeric.org. These are also really good questions to post on listservs. And don't forget the building-level library media specialists. They can search and retrieve the needed information targeted to specific needs in our own schools.

FS: The timing of when the guidelines will be finalized has been a real problem. But already from reviewing what is known, we can see that there are items that states are required to address, as well as items that schools—LEAs or Local Educational Agencies, as they're called in legislation—are required to address. There are three overarching categories for these activities:

ME: So educators should have started yesterday. Okay, let's get going now. First, reflect on which students are having the greatest difficulty meeting performance standards, why, and how to improve. For example, if we determine that literacy at the early grades provides the best opportunity for improvement, let's gather as much information as possible about the kids and what their teachers are doing now. This can shape the "research questions" and the school's information needs. Then, again, it's time for the IT team to work together to find and then examine and analyze the existing research (Big6 stage #4). [See Figure 1 for a graphic representation of "Using Research to Meet the Challenges of No Child Left Behind.] The IT team should be well prepared to identify who the people are in our school or district with the information we need about kids, existing practice, and possible interventions. But it's important for the IT team to recognize this as its role and that it is a priority.

FS: It seems that very quickly this gathering of information could be come overwhelming. What tips can you provide to avoid this fate?

ME: That's actually easy—continually go back to Task Definition. Keep our eyes on the prize: What are we trying to accomplish here and what information do we need to do so? In most situations, the ultimate specific task is to create a fundable plan, one that meets the ED-Tech requirements of No Child Left Behind. Synthesis (Big6 #5) helps us bring it all together and provides order to the process. These defined tasks should guide the Use of Information (Big6 #4) as we interact with the materials and sources.

For example, the four members of the IT team should also be guided by these design questions: What ED-Tech support is required to improve achievement? What are the staff, time, resource, learning needs? Then, they can keep alert to opportunities for solutions to these problems.

There are also more direct tools and tips for keeping track of gathered information. The IT team should consider methods for organizing, retrieving, and synthesizing information. This could be aided by a range of software products such as electronic spreadsheets, database systems, and organizers such as Inspiration.

FS: Of course, we are doing this for kids, and not for the feds. The guidelines put us through a process that prompts us to devise research-based interventions to reach students who have not found success until now. Can you shed some light on how the sixth element of Big6—Evaluation—adds value to the process?

ME: Evaluation in the Big6 framework is twofold: effectiveness and efficiency. Are we being effective in what we set out to do? And, almost as important, are we doing so in a manageable way considering the very limited time and effort that educators really have to spend on this, since we are all doing so much. Evaluation is often what's missing in education reform or change efforts. We pay lots of attention to teacher actions and behavior (the inputs: lesson plans, text books, etc.) but not so much to outputs (evidence of student learning).

By making sure that we periodically focus on questioning the effectiveness of what we are doing as well as whether we could be doing so in a less demanding way (again, in terms of time and effort), we've at least got a fighting chance to improve student learning and performance.

We can consider what we could do better, or what not to do at all. We learn which techniques work with which students, under which particular conditions. This is compatible with the goals of No Child Left Behind. And the Big6 is a good example of this.

In Big6 land, we've been doing it since 1987. Yes, the Big6 is drawn from practice, but it has always been founded in a solid research base. I'm biased, of course, but we believe that the Big6 provides schools with a powerful tool to develop a coherent set of responses to the challenges posed by the legislation. But more important than that, the Big6 helps us do a better job of helping kids learn and achieve. That's our job—regardless of the administration in Washington or any particular educational philosophy. So, let's get started.
 
 

E-mail Big6's Mike Eisenberg at mbe@u.washington.edu; visit the Big6 Web site at http://www.big6.com. E-mail MultiMedia Schools editor Ferdi Serim at ferdi@infotoday.com; visit the magazine's Web site at http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools.
 

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