Dr. Andres Alonso was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 12. Originally speaking no English, he attended public schools in Union City, New Jersey, and ultimately graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University. Dr. Alonso went on to earn a J.D. from Harvard Law School and practiced law in New York City before changing course to become an educator. In 2006 he was awarded a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University.
From 1987 to 1998, Dr. Alonso taught emotionally disturbed special education adolescents and English language learners in Newark, New Jersey. He worked at the New York City Department of Education from 2003 to 2007, first as Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, working closely with the Chancellor in planning and implementing the reform of the largest educational system in the nation. On July 1, 2007, Dr. Alonso was named CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools).
Among many other awards, in 2008 he was granted the “Audacious Individual Award” by the Open Society Institute Baltimore, and named “Innovator of the Year” by The Daily Record. In 2009 he was named “School Superintendent of the Year” by the Fullwood Foundation, and recognized as a “Hispanic Hero Award” winner by U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education. In August 2009 Dr. Alonso was appointed to the prestigious No Child Left Behind Committee for the Aspen Institute, a bipartisan effort to improve federal education policy to spur academic progress and close the achievement gap.
Question: Should No Child Left Behind be retained, abandoned, or improved?
Andres Alonso: Well, it looks like it’s sort of going away on its own right now, as in, you have Race to the Top taking the salience in how states and districts are orienting their work. It stills matters tremendously in terms of how schools in the public sort of see local accountability. I started teaching at a time when the special education and the classrooms were all in the basement and those were the classrooms that got the books last because they didn’t count in the test scores.
So, there's an element of No Child Left Behind that I have always applauded, which is that it expanded the demand for hard work and progress to every single child. I think it did it very bluntly and with huge consequences in terms of narrowing of instruction. It was also, in many ways, too timid in that it never defined standards. It left untouched questions of equity as in, you know, it called for highly qualified teacher, but it did nothing about making sure that they ended up in the poorest schools. Or it called for choice, but it made choice within districts. Well, what if the districts don’t have enough good schools for choice? It didn’t open up the choice to the adjacent suburb where all the middle class kids are.
So, it was very bold in some ways; it was very, very timid in others. Clearly, many things about it now change. The accountability system will be different, the move towards common standards has extraordinary velocity right now, the nature of the tests is going to change. So, I’m intrigued by what happens in the next couple of years because it potentially reorients everything and one of the amazing things that the new administration has done is it settled very early on a change in practice. Before, the big lever for the federal government was money as always, but the money always went out in a formula. What has been happening is that the money has - huge amounts of money are now discretionary. They're being distributed in a discretionary way and that has created a stampede towards these dollars and of course everybody trying to qualify for the dollars in ways that has completed shifted how, you know, certain states are looking at their work. It’s quite impressive. I mean, I give the Secretary of Education enormous credit for this. I don’t think I would have been able to think of it. So, I applaud him.
Recorded on January 29, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen