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

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NCLB: Present-Day Alterations and Historical Design

Here are a couple of clips from "No Child Left Behind Has Altered the Face of Education," a piece from Monday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is the second in a 7-part series on education:
When he thinks about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Jim Testerman of the Pennsylvania State Education Association is reminded of a statement attributed to Albert Einstein.

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

. . . . Accountability is NCLB's defining feature.

"Supporters of the practice of high-stakes testing believe that the quality of American education can be vastly improved by introducing a system of rewards and sanctions for students' academic performance," researchers at Arizona State University's Education Policy Studies Laboratory said in a September 2005 report condemning the practice.

The researchers called for a moratorium on such testing, saying it encourages students to drop out of school and puts the greatest pressure on minority students in low-performing schools.

The national goal is 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014, with districts facing intermediate proficiency targets along the way. With failure comes consequences, ranging from letting students transfer from low-performing schools to elimination of locally elected school boards.

Where this piece stops is where every other news story has stopped (that I know of), at the door to the unexplored room where one may find the origins and rationale for the stubborn insistence on maintaining NCLB goals that will never be reached. Would the voices of that dark room reveal that the Bushies knew in 2001 that the American public was not ready for school vouchers, no more than they were ready for school privatization plans that were being advanced by his own Party? Would reporters find that the brain trusts of the Fordham Foundation and the Education Leaders Council devised AYP as the ultimate weapon to assure the steady, increasing failure of public schools via impossible goals and sanctions that would take a gradualist approach to privatization? Could it be that the testing industry, the tutoring industry, the EMOs were filtering their input through the sludge tanks like Fordham and Manhattan, Cato and Heritage, whose reps were among the insiders crafting the requirements of the legislation at the same time that elected representatives, senators, and various constituencies were excluded from the meetings where NCLB was being crafted?

Or perhaps these questions are for historians, not reporters who are now restricted by their corporate masters to the "he said, she said" of the spinmeisters, whose equal ideological representations in a story are the ultimate tests of journalistic objectivity.

I would recommend that any reporter (or citizen) who has any curiosity about these questions read Elizabeth Debray's legislative history, Politics, Ideology & Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations (Teachers College Press, 2006). Though you will not find all these questions answered, it should be a primer of any education reporter charged with covering the current and spreading failure phenomena of public schools, as well as the upcoming NCLB battle for the future of American education. There is enough here in Debray's book to make out the outlines of where to go next.

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