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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NCLB and Soviet Style Micro-Mismanaging

Here are some clips from a steaming letter (pdf) from Arizona Ed Superintendent, Tom Horne, to members of the Arizona Congressional delegation. What Horne recounts is the now-predictable, carcinogenic levels of duplicity, lying, incompetence, arrogance, and bullying that have become the trademarks that this U. S. ED uses to fabricate the failure of American public schools, regardless of the costs to both adults and children in the process:
. . . The federal department negotiated separate agreements with each of the 50 states in 2003, eventually achieving 50 separate state agreements which were then celebrated in a Rose Garden ceremony. In the case of Arizona, the most significant problem being negotiated was that of English Language Learners, because of our geography and our high number of English Language Learners. . . . The ultimate compromise was that the test scores would be counted in the first year, but that any schools not making adequate yearly progress could appeal and those appeals would be granted with respect to students in their first three years of being English Language Learners. Attached to this letter is a memorandum by a representative of the federal government in the negotiations, confirming this agreement. The federal department asked to keep the agreement oral, so that other states would not copy it, but the contemporaneous notes to which the memorandum refers furnish irrefutable written proof that the agreement was reached.

This past year, the federal department indicated that they were reneging on the agreement. Normally, oral agreements are enforceable with exceptions not applicable here (such as agreements for sale of real estate). I have therefore brought suit to enforce the agreement. But what is of more general interest is that there can be no rational basis for the rule the federal department is imposing.

. . . .Accountability should mean rewarding good schools, and calling attention to the weaknesses in unsuccessful schools that must be addressed. What the federal department is doing now is simply condemning to failure any school with more than 40 students in a given grade level that are English Language Learners, no matter how good the school is.

If a community knows that a school is good, and the federal government labels it as failing, the community is not fooled. They know how good their school is. What happens is that the credibility of accountability in that community is destroyed.

. . . . Schools are caught in the kind of dilemma that many feel is typical of what happens when the federal government tries to micromanage the details of people’s lives. Whatever they do, they will violate a federal law – either special education law or No Child Left Behind. If they disallow the nonstandard accommodation that is contained in the student’s individual education plan, they are violating special education law. But if they allow the student to have the nonstandard accommodation, then they are doomed to failure under No Child Left Behind, because it is not uncommon to have more than five percent of special education students at some grade level needing nonstandard accommodations. Some of the highest academically performing schools in our state failed to make adequate yearly progress this year because they refused to bow down to an irrational rule, and they allowed the students the nonstandard accommodations provided for in the students’ independent education plans.

. . . . One thing that is particularly frustrating is that the federal Department of Education is not honest in its dealings with the press. When reporters called the federal Department of Education about the nonstandard accommodations issue a department employee falsely laid the blame with the State Department of Education – me. She said that the federal government has nothing to do with determining what is a nonstandard or standard accommodation, that that is up to the state. That is a false statement. If I were to count as standard accommodations, accommodations that change the results of test, I would be sanctioned by the federal government.

The situation is even worse with respect to the English Language Learners’ problem. A PR person for the department, Chad Colby, was shopping around a false story about me to newspapers. He claimed that I was lying about the English Language Learner agreement and that Arizona assessment system was a “sham.” The attached memorandum, written by representative of the federal department proves that I was telling the truth. All but one paper were too knowledgeable to buy his story, but a young reporter at one paper did. When we showed the facts to that paper, they ran an editorial stating that what I had done was proper.

. . . .The current system of both the statute, and the federal Department of Education’s interpretation of the statute, which micromanages details, can no more be successful than the Soviet government was successful in managing a continent-wide economy.

Horne, by the way, has been and remains a proponent of "accountability" and testing.


  1. Anonymous9:19 AM

    Can you post a new link to the letter? I think the one you're currently using is broken, and I'd *really* like to read this one. Thanks!

  2. Email me directly for the pdf. of the letter. JH