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

Sunday, October 08, 2006

NCLB: Strategic Ingenuity Disguised As Full Absurdity

The full absurdity of the federal No Child Left Behind law is hitting home. Perry Elementary is in trouble despite impressive progress on reading test scores. Gov. Tom Vilsack and every member of the Iowa congressional delegation should personally contact U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to protest.

They should ask her for the logic of labeling the school as "in need of assistance" when:

- The share of fourth-graders overall who scored proficient or better in reading comprehension on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills grew to 78.3 percent from 65.4 percent.

- Low-income fourth-graders pushed the percentage testing as proficient to 69.7 from 53.4.

- Hispanic fourth-graders scoring as proficient leaped to 69.4 percent from 42.6 percent.

It's the score for special-education students that's the problem. Just 22.7 percent scored proficient in reading. And that's where the law is particularly unreasonable.

Students getting special-education services obviously face bigger academic challenges than other youngsters. Expectations ought to be high. But at the same time, those students must overcome or compensate for acknowledged disabilities. That can make achieving big increases in test scores much harder.

More intensive efforts should be made, just as Perry plans to do, but singling out its elementary school as deficient in the meantime is ridiculous.

Across Iowa, 249 schools are being singled out for not meeting one requirement or another of the education mandate signed by President Bush in 2002. Its goal is noble: All children are supposed to be proficient in math and reading by 2013-2014. To its credit, the law has forced districts to pay more attention to improving basic skills for disadvantaged students, which is very important.

But it is not the federal government's role to interfere in local schools to this extent, with a maze of bureaucratic rules that often lack common sense.

What this Des Moines Register op-ed writer and most Americans fail to see is that this NCLB labeling, which most citizens would agree is absurd, has had, since its inception, a policy purpose that goes to the heart of the conservative education agenda: the replacement of public schools through the implementation of vouchers and charters. NCLB is a grand strategic maneuver to crush public schools that is disguised as a well-intentioned, but short-sighted, intervention. However, there is nothing short-sighted about NCLB.

You see, when it became apparent in 2001 that a school voucher provision would not be included in NCLB, the White House’s inside man in the Senate, Sen. Judd Gregg, rallied support among disappointed Republicans. In doing so, he offered this glimpse into the Rovian education strategy to bring down public schools and, in the process, dump billions into the laps of tutoring concerns run by corporate and fundamentalist supporters:
“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).
And, of course, this strategy is working. More and more schools, teachers, and children are being labeled as failures each year as we move inexorably toward impossible test targets that were cynically crafted to produce failure, rather than success. If that is not grounds for criminal child abuse, I don't know what would qualify.

In the meantime, Spellings and Bush promise more Federal cash for tutoring companies, while promoting more charter schools and a $100,000,000 voucher inititative. From the Decider's speech at the Washington charter school on Thursday:

We're going to work with school districts to help more students take advantage of free [paid for from the school's Title One funds], intensive tutoring . You'd be amazed at the number of districts that don't use this extra tutoring. They don't take advantage of the extra money to help an individual child. Oh, they'll figure out ways to spend it, don't get me wrong. But the money is aimed for helping an individual succeed, and it's the cumulative effect of bringing these students up to grade level that will enable us all to say we're more competitive for the future.

I believe in opportunity scholarships [vouchers]. I believe that the program here in Washington, D.C. ought to be replicated around the country. I call on Congress to create such a program for 28,000 low-income children as a beginning step to help parents challenge failure.
Any remaining doubts about the agenda? Any remaining doubts that NCLB is the weapon being wielded to win the war against public schools?

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