"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coalitions of the Unwilling

A good deal of misleading press coverage has resulted from Spellings’ announcement for some kind of experiment in growth models to be used in 10 states chosen during the next year through an application process. For instance, this Washington Post piece almost seems giddy in its praise and appraisal of how this bold move will beat back the cascades of criticism of NCLB:
The Bush administration has begun to ease some key rules for the controversial No Child Left Behind law, opening the door to a new way to rate schools, granting a few urban systems permission to provide federally subsidized tutoring and allowing certain states more time to meet teacher-quality requirements.

The Education Department's actions could signal a new phase for school improvement efforts nearly four years after the law's enactment. Taken together, these actions amount to a major response to critics who have called No Child Left Behind rigid and unworkable. They also help the administration combat efforts to amend the law in Congress.

The latest shift, announced Friday by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, is an experiment allowing as many as 10 states to try "growth models" for determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress. Such models could enable states to credit schools for the academic growth of individual students even if their test scores fall short of state standards.
And then a couple of graphs down comes this, which negates all the rosy PR that this move was intended to engender:
Spellings said she would not compromise on essential principles. Foremost, she said, is ensuring that all students are tested in reading and mathematics from grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, with results reported separately for racial and ethnic minorities, disabled students and other groups. The law's twin goals are to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students reach proficiency by 2014. "A growth model is not a way around accountability standards," Spellings said Friday in Richmond.
Now who will the ten states be? We learned from this Friday's post that the ten states chosen for the experiment must have in place the kind of longitudinal data gathering apparatus that was called for on November 17 (one day before Spellings’ announcement) by the Data Quality Campaign, led by Achieve, Inc., Bill and Melinda, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, The Education Trust, National Center for Educational Accountability, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Schools Interoperability Framework Association, Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, and State Higher Education Executive Officers.

I suggested, too, in Friday's post that it would be left up to the states, desperate for a way keep their schools from being turned into corporate welfare charters, to dig up the cash to create these massive databases. Well, it seems that they will have some help from the Federal treasury that ED dispenses so generously when corporate interests come calling. eSchool News Online reported November 21 that ED’s Institute of Education Science (IES) has just announced the shovelling of $52.8 million to 14 states to begin the implementation the kind of databases that the corporate technocrats and the ed industry are screaming for:
States receiving the grants are Alaska ($3.5 million), Arkansas ($3.3 million), California ($3.3 million), Connecticut ($1.5 million), Florida ($1.6 million), Kentucky ($5.8 million), Maryland ($5.7 million), Michigan ($3 million), Minnesota ($3.3 million), Ohio ($5.7 million), Pennsylvania ($4 million), South Carolina ($5.8 million), Tennessee ($3.2 million), and Wisconsin ($3.1 million).

The grants were made under the Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002, Title II of the statute that created IES. All 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were eligible to apply, and IES received 45 applications.

The winnings states reportedly were chosen in a competition based on the merit of their proposals. Proposals were assessed based on aspects such as the need for the project, the quality of the project's design, and the quality of the management plan, ED said.
Can we assume that the ten states will be chosen from the fourteen listed above? I think so.

What will all this mean to NCLB’s underlying requirement that America’s public schools be deemed failures by 2014, and what will it mean for the poor and brown canaries in this dark mine that NCLB has dug? I noted at a public meeting last week that NCLB is the educational equivalent to a foreign policy based on our Iraqi exploits, and it would seem that for the time being that Maggie and her lawyers at ED are not yet in a cut and run mood.

What the current PR campaign and the wave to "growth models" will mean is that, if McGraw-Hill’s (S&P’s) growth model is adopted, then we will have a statistical formula based on test scores corrected for poverty. While this may sound good, in the sense of finally recognizing the direct correlation between test scores and family income, what it will do in the long run is to make poverty more invisible than a black man sitting on a pile of rubble in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. If we can “correct” for poverty, the rationale for dealing with the underlying opportunity and achievement gaps will be weakened even more than now--if that is possible.

In the meantime, the poor and the brown will be blamed for their own lack of educational preparation for the global economic war that the Business Roundtable is now waging for corporate control around the world. If you doubt it, see this piece in the corporate rag, Business Week, which is playing their fear-mongering media role in this corporate assault by declaring “America the Uneducated” as a way to instill fear of and resistance to the browning of America, while providing a rationale for the planned expansion of the exportation of more jobs that they have always maintained as in the best interest of the American people. Here are a couple of clips:
But now, for the first time ever, America's educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly, warns a report released on Nov. 9 by the National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, a nonprofit group based in San Jose, Calif. The key reason: As highly educated baby boomers retire, they'll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees. . . . Within a decade, the Conference Board projects, students in such countries will be just as likely as those in the U.S. and Europe to get a high school education. Given their much larger populations, that should enable them to churn out far more college graduates as well. More U.S. white-collar jobs will then be likely to move offshore, warns National Center President Patrick M. Callan. "For the U.S. economy, the implication of these trends is really stark," he says.
Wonder why educational preparation and graduation rates among the brown and the poor are on the decline? Could there be a link to the current testing hysteria in America that is killing interest in school and learning, demoralizing and chasing away large segments of the most vulnerable populations? Could it be connected to the $14 billion that the House Budget bill cuts out of college tuition assistance to fund the continuing tax cuts for the rich? Or is it just the old historical problem of those lazy and shiftless minorities who plan to inherit our American dream, as the Business Week piece suggests?

If we value the democratic experiment that public schools have imperfectly helped to keep alive, parents, teachers, and academics will begin a systematic and targeted resistance to the current testing insanity, a resistance that will bring this war against the poor and the public schools to a close in 2007, when reauthorization of NCLB is scheduled to be taken up by Congress.

Support Our Schools—Bring Them Home.

There is much to give thanks for in America every day, while there is much work to be done—let’s make sure that we can say that on many Thanksgivings to come.

Jim Horn

1 comment:

  1. Jim: I just read your review of Whittle's "Crash Course" and today's blog. I am a kindred spirit in my cynicism of experiments in education such as Whittle's. As a Canadian watching the gut-wrenching struggle to equitably educate all people in the US., I have shaken my head at the unbridled intrusion into the fray by those utterly unqualified to be there.

    Should there not be an honourable and loyal opposition at some stage of governance to mitigate excesses and intrusions such as massive testing and standardization?

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