Happy Talk on School Reform
The Bush administration responded characteristically this week when it put a positive gloss on national math and reading scores that were actually dismal - and bad news for the school reform effort. Faced with charges that his signature reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, was failing, the president played up the minor positive results. He should have seized the moment to acknowledge the bad news and explain what it would take to make things right.
He should also, of course, have reminded the nation that as long as it fails to take school reform seriously, American children will fall further and further behind their peers abroad.
The fourth grade reading scores on this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress were basically flat compared with 2003, even though the states are supposed to be ramping up student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students. Fourth graders' math performance was also a clear disappointment, at a time when the country hopes to catch up with the international competition in science.
Critics of No Child Left Behind were quick to pounce, arguing that student progress was more impressive, by some measures, before the law kicked in. The truth is less depressing, but still extremely daunting. No Child Left Behind has reached that perilous interim phase that all reforms must eventually pass through if they are to survive. It has reaped the easy gains that were achieved by merely paying more attention to the problem. The next level of progress will require deeper systemic change, especially in the realm of teacher quality.
Most states have avoided this core issue and simply opted for repackaging a deeply inadequate teacher corps. Real reform will require better teacher training and higher teacher qualifications, which will in turn mean cracking the whip on teachers' colleges that have basically ignored the standards movement. The federal government was supposed to confront this issue head-on, but has tiptoed around it for several years. This week's test scores are not the end of reform. But they could well spell the beginning of a downward spiral unless Congress, federal officials and the states all pull together to move the country out of this trough and onto higher ground. That will mean hard work and more money - and a direct confrontation with the politically explosive issue of teacher preparedness. Happy talk won't get it done.
October 22, 2005
I find it interesting, stupid though it may be, that your editorial writer, Brent Staples, is it? (who else could sound more like an angry white man?) would choose to find someone else to blame for another Administration debacle, this one called NCLB.
Intimidating your way to higher test scores will never get you there, Brent. What you really need to get the job done are more teachers and teacher educators like NY Times reporters who will embed or, rather, bed themselves with the thugs inside the White House in order to get the attention and accolades they, otherwise, would never merit. That way, too, they can just make up the scores, and everyone will be happy and not a test score point the stupider.
By the way, you have an open invitation to call on any of my education classes at Monmouth University anytime, unannounced. If you would get off your high horse long enough to visit some of the colleges you now choose to castigate to cover the stupidity of a failed ED policy, you would, perhaps, not be so quick to broad brush your way into the dunce corner.
Unless, of course, like Judy M., you will let nothing, particularly the facts, get in the way of currying favor in order to make your grade or get the scoop. Scoop of what, I think you know.