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

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Wacky No Child World

Bitter Lesson: A Good School Gets an 'F'
Published: January 11, 2006

In the right kind of world, Public School 48 in the South Bronx would be getting all kinds of awards. Though the school serves some of the city's poorest minority children (75 per cent Hispanic, 25 per cent black and all eligible for free lunches), P.S. 48's test scores have soared in the last few years. In 2005, 86 per cent of fourth graders scored proficient in math, and 68.5 per cent in English, placing P.S. 48 near the top of the Bronx's 130 elementary schools.

The principal, John Hughes, has mixed feelings about all the testing that goes on these days, but professionally, he has put that all aside. "The profit margin in this business is test scores," he said. "That's all they measure you by now."

In the No Child world, state and federal officials plug test results from schools that few of them have ever seen into a series of complex formulas. The calculations are so technical that it took city officials many hours over several weeks to finally pinpoint why P.S. 48 was labeled failing.

At one point, the city's top testing officials were not sure whether to use something called the Annual Measurable Objective or the Effective Annual Measurable Objective to calculate P.S. 48's score, and had to confer with state officials.

"If the number-crunchers don't understand," Mr. Hughes said, "how can a principal? And parents? It's crazy. "This federal law," Mr. Hughes added, "is wacky."

The No Child Left Behind world is wacky indeed.

If you'd like to thank Mike Winerip for pointing this out:
E-mail: edmike@nytimes.com

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