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

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

CEP's Fig Leaf

A new study by The Center on Education Policy is providing much needed cover for Democrats and Republicans as No Child Left Behind makes it way through the halls of Congress and heads towards reauthorization. The Washington Post headline on its web site reads"Test Sores Soar Under No Child Left Behind." As the country's general media outlets widely report the results of this study by a "bi-partisan" organization, how many people will take the time to read beyond the headlines and be able to see that criticism from education scholars point out that the study's methodology is deeply flawed, basically rendering the study meaningless. More important, how many Americans will stop and ask whether a few points higher on a standardized tests actually means children are getting a good education.

Today, we live in a country that is mired in illusions and myths perpetuated by the never ending stream of lies coming from this administration. At the same time, presidential candidates from both parties to date have ignored the problems in education and with No Child Left Behind. The subject was barely mentioned in the presidential debates this week. Now, we have yet another study to provide the perfect fig leaf for those lacking the political will and courage to come out and take responsibility for the achievement gap that anyone with any common sense knows stems from the increasing economic gap that continues to leave millions of children behind.

"This study confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation's schools and students," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. "We know the law is working, so now is the time to reauthorize."

Along with Spellings' inane and ridiculous quote ignoring any semblance to reality on the ground, comments from critics and scholars can be found buried in the last few paragraphs of the story:

Some scholars criticized the report's methodology. Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, said it made little sense to draw conclusions when so few states have adequate data. He also said the researchers overstated small gains and did not adequately address states that he said have been dumbing down standards.

"These big-hearted analysts, to amend an adage, look at a glass that's nine-tenths' empty and celebrate that it's one-tenth full," Fuller wrote in an e-mail.

The good new is more and more people are beginning to speak out. A recent editorial in the Providence Journal, The nation, not schools, takes lousy care of our children, says it loud and clear and highlights Richard Rothstein, one of the true champions of children and education. Rothstein, a former education columnist for The New York Times, in his book, Class and the Classroom, describes the numerous social conditions contributing to the achievement gap in great detail. In it he cites poverty as the primary ingredient in maintaining the achievement gap.

Schools may exacerbate the achievement gap, but they didn’t create it in the first place. As a nation, we are shockingly content to tolerate widespread poverty among our fellow citizens. We are the richest country in the world, but one in five children is brought up in a family living at the federal poverty line. The quintile above them is not much better off.

In short, we take lousy care of our kids, but find it convenient to blame the schools.
How much longer will this charade continue? How much longer with the American public tolerate it? And, when will the political leaders who now ask for our confidence in running the country begin to speak the truth about the inequalities in education that no test will ever cure?

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