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

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Last Shall Be First

Here is a clip from a piece by high school teacher, Stan Karp:
Currently, the No Child Left Behind Act has schools across the country reeling as its impact unfolds in numbing bureaucratic detail. As many as 80 percent of the nation's public schools may find themselves labeled as schools "needing improvement," on the narrow basis of annual test scores and unreachable performance targets. The scheme uses achievement gaps among up to 10 different groups of students to label schools as "failures," without providing the resources or support needed to eliminate them. It includes an unfunded mandate that by 2014, 100 percent of all students, including special education students and English-language learners, must be proficient on state tests. Schools that do not reach increasingly unattainable test score targets face an escalating series of sanctions up to and including possible closure and the imposition of private management on public schools.

Instead of an appropriate educational strategy, NCLB's test and punish formula is part of a calculated political campaign to leave schools and children behind as the federal government retreats from the nation's historic commitment to improving universal public schooling for all children. The sanctions that NCLB imposes have no record of success as school improvement strategies, and in fact are not educational strategies at all. They are political strategies designed to bring a kind of market reform to public education. They will do little to address the pressing needs of public schools but they will create a widespread perception of systemic failure, demoralize teachers and school communities, and erode the common ground that a universal system of public education needs to survive. The privatization agenda in NCLB is reflected most clearly in its provisions for school transfers and supplemental services. (A straightforward voucher program was taken out of the original proposal as part of the legislative compromise that got it passed, though the administration continues to pursue vouchers through separate means.) Instead, NCLB has provisions that require a district to spend up to 20 percent of its federal funds to support transfers from failing schools to schools that meet their AYP targets or that don't receive Title I funds.

Now have a look at this piece from today's Washington Post that serves as a case study for what Karp has described above. Here is a clip:

It has been eight years since Maryland told the Prince George's County school to shape up, or else. It has been four years since the federal government raised the pressure with a law meant to force shake-ups through aid and sanctions.

Yet Charles Carroll Middle School has continued to fall short of state standards, even though the county has switched textbooks, changed principals three times and even assigned a "turnaround specialist."

So far, actions and threats have been fruitless. The school, for a second straight year, is at the final stage of a state "needs improvement" list. It will stay there at least one more year. State officials call this stage "the deep end."

Earlier than D.C., Virginia and most other states, Maryland faces a question posed by the No Child Left Behind law: What happens when a school reaches the end of the line?

Last week, the Bush administration offered one answer. It proposed $100 million to help parents with children in last-stage public schools move them to private schools or obtain tutoring. The proposal riled school-voucher opponents but underscored the issue's growing urgency.

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