President George Bush’s State of the Union proposals to escalate the failing test-and-punish strategy of the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law, as outlined by a White House policy memo (http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2007/initiatives/print/education.html), rest on misinformation and ideologically skewed assumptions, not evidence. Pres. Bush wants to continue pursuing dead-end policies that have not improved educational quality, particularly for our nation's most vulnerable children
The facts demonstrate that NCLB is not a success. Key independent indicators, including dropout rates, college admissions test scores, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results are unchanged or only slightly improved. Narrowing of the racial achievement gap has slowed since NCLB was implemented.
Meanwhile, the law has turned many schools into test-coaching programs, denying students the well-rounded, rich education all the nation's children deserve. The Bush administration pretends that minor changes in test scores in a few subjects is an adequate substitute for real education.
Now, the Pres. Bush proposes that all states report their NAEP results along with scores on their local tests. But the NAEP definition of "proficiency" was deemed flawed and too high by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Education. Making states look bad by comparing them to an unreasonable standard will not improve education.
Outside the Bush Administration, a broad consensus on how to overhaul NCLB is emerging, as evidence by the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by more than 100 education, civil rights, religious, disability and civic groups, including FairTest. It says, "Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."
The recommended changes to NCLB include:
- using multiple measures of student learning instead of single test scores;
- expecting rates of improvement actually attained by significant numbers of real schools, replacing the "adequate yearly progress" scheme;
- providing substantial support for building the capacity of schools to serve all students well, then holding them accountable for making improvements; and
- increasing funding to support improvement efforts and to enable all students eligible for Title I services to receive them.
The Forum on Educational Accountability, a group working to implement the Joint Statement, will release more detailed proposals on capacity-building, assessment and accountability in the coming months.
What FairTest has not confronted or challenged directly is the privatization strategy that emanates from the conservative rationale for the old and new versions of NCLB. FairTest, for whatever reason, continues to pretend that the educational genocide from NCLB is somehow an unintended consequence of incompetence or stupidity. Although there is plenty of that to go around in this Administration, neither incompetence nor stupidity is the reason that Bush Co. has a laser focus on impossible AYP targets for public schools. Look at the privatization initiatives in tonight's speech that depend upon the manufactured failure of schools based on impossible test targets:
- We Will Strengthen School Restructuring. Schools subject to restructuring for chronic underperformance will be required either to make substantial changes in staff or to reconstitute the schools' governance structure.
- We Will Require Persistently Underperforming Schools To Offer "Promise Scholarships." These scholarships will enable low-income students to transfer to private schools or out-of-district public schools, or receive intensive tutoring. Federal funds will follow the students to their new schools.
- We Will Offer Competitive Grants Through The "Opportunity Scholarships Program" To Help Communities Expand School Choice Options For Low-Income Parents And Students. Similar to the Washington, D.C., choice program that the Federal government has funded since 2004, families would be able to send their children to a private school through a locally designed scholarship program. They could also seek intensive tutoring.
- We Will Increase The Availability Of High-Quality Charter Schools, Which Provide Important Options For Parents. Charters will also have a greater degree of flexibility to use their grants in executing planning and startup activities.
We Will Help Parents Get The Information They Need In Time To Make Informed Decisions About Their Children's School Choice Options. We will strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure parents receive proper and timely notice of their tutoring and choice options, and school districts will be allowed to use Federal funds to conduct high-quality parent outreach campaigns.
- We Will Expand Access To Tutoring. We will ensure that districts notify parents whose children are eligible for tutoring and require school districts to make full use of the Federal funds set aside for tutoring and other school choice activities.