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

Monday, July 31, 2006

No Child Left Behind and More Failure

Insight from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Right on cue, NCLB produces more failure

The great majority of states, including Kentucky, have failed to meet another set of deadlines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and so have evoked from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yet more ominous threats, including the punishment of slashing their federal funding.

"I want the states to know that Congress and the President mean business on the law," she said.

For a time, Secretary Spellings seemed fairly sympathetic to states' struggles to comply with NCLB's many demands. Matter of fact, she said, "Last year it was, 'We're marching together toward the deadline,' but now it's time for, 'Your homework is due.' "

Of course, it's an election season, and the heat is on.

It's coming no doubt from within the Bush administration, eager to look competent at something, and from worried congressional conservatives, seeking to show their base that they are still bravely crusading against "godless," and, thus, failing public schools.

The good news is that Kentucky, which got serious about accountability long before Washington did, isn't meekly accepting the arbitrary declarations of failure. "We are challenging that designation of not being in compliance, and we have provided … more evidence that we either are in compliance or will be soon," Kentucky Education Department spokesperson Lisa Gross said. "Our concern throughout the implementation period of No Child Left Behind is the inconsistency of the decisions" by federal education officials.

For example, they rejected Kentucky's proposals for meeting certain NCLB requirements but then turned around and approved the same or very similar proposals from other states.

Indeed, Nebraska's education officials have gone so far as to accuse Secretary Spellings and her underlings of being "mean-spirited, arbitrary and heavy-handed."

States, districts and schools are now being declared failures because their ways of testing don't match Washington's, because their teachers' credentials aren't uniformly good enough and because the scores of certain subgroups of students, while improving, aren't improving fast enough.

As Ms. Gross put it, "With No Child Left Behind, it's all or nothing."

The recent escalation in the administration's tough talk coincides with two other events: first, the release of a federally commissioned study that embarrassed the administration by finding that private schools are no more successful than public ones, and, second, the introduction, nevertheless, of a national school voucher plan by congressional Republicans.

Taken together, it all adds up to more evidence that NCLB is less about improving public schools than about finding excuses to discredit and abandon them, in favor of their unaccountable private and religious counterparts.

1 comment:

  1. When I read opinions as this, I keep thinking that its a political war about education not a concern about what may work or what's best for students. Is NCLB the best approach? Don't know. Are the things that many school are doing to improve working - some yes and many no (look at graduation rates, literacy rates, dropout rates, etc.) even with all the money plowed into education (other countries around the world get more bang for the buck - get higher grades for less money.

    Private schools may or may not do better than public schools - but it depends on the report you read or how you read the report. For less money generally, they do as well as public schools in the grades but they graduate better than public schools - literacy, number graduating, going to higher education, etc. I've read that some specialized schools (Cal Tech) get more students from public schools than from private schools. Public schools can educate well but too many don't.

    It's not that public schools do no good - lots of graduates of public schools go to college, do great work, make a difference. The point is that for all they get the results are not good - too many youth don't know how to deal with the world and work even if they have a high school diploma.

    Testing is part of school and always has been - pop quiz, end of the chapter test, semester test, comprehensive tests, achievement testing, SAT, ACT, etc. What I get from the NCLB argument is that teachers don't like to be dictated to and don't want another test to deal with and don't like being told they did a lousy job. No one does. Education specialists think they have the answer but for too long, maybe because of unions, administrations, capital or Washington politics, they have not done well.

    Will NCLB make a difference? Don't know but I do know that since many teachers are resistent and some work against making it work well, the results we get are not a true reflection of the program or its aims. Is every provision in NCLB good or workable? Probably not, but just pointing out some parts of what does not work does not make it a bad or worthless program. If that were true, we'd have to dump most of what most of us do since we fail often enough before we succeed. Ask business people about this. It takes time to get everyone on board and learn to make things work.

    How do we know that just because a school says someone who graduates knows as much as they need to know? We need some sort of standards, just like anything. In a class, a teacher decides these standards. In a school, administration or board of supervisors decide this; in a state the politicians decide.

    Part of what we need now is a national view or world view. Perhaps it was ok to say a student knew enough to function in their area of the country so grading and performance did not need to be uniform across the country - you knew enough to function in your part of the world. Fine.

    Now the name of the game is changed. Who you train in what school needs to be able to function in any part of the country since they may have to move there to get a job or that's where they want to be. Companies who employ people from other parts of the country or from other countries move in locally and they need a knowledgable workforce since they are competing with other companies who have knowledgable workers. Educated people are moving into communities where education was not such a priority and want or demand more from their schools. So school districts have to perform differently, better, at a higher level.

    Many students do not fit the college mold so there is voc ed, which at this time is weak, and there are Jr./Community colleges which have 10 million adults attending at this time. More education is so needed and knowing how to learn, read, write, math, think critically, etc. because jobs are changing. It's not all the teachers'fault since students and their parents still control a lot of the day before and after school and much positive, negative or indifferent attitude about education comes from parents, relatives, communities, ethnic groups, political organizations, etc. We can all rally about making education better, but if we are not willing to push, force, rally, organize people to do what it takes, then it's only so much rhetoric.

    This issue of mean spirited - well that's just gas thrown on a fire. Educators say mean spirited things for their own ends, politicians say mean spirited things - its a fight. We still need students who will become workers and voting citizens to know how to learn and know enough to function well in the world. Do what it takes. We need to know nationally if people are prepared to get higher education or work in the world. That's fair for all the money that's put into the Education pot.