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

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Immoral Clarity of No Child Left Behind

If NCLB were just about using the U. S. Department of Education in an attempt to break the backs of the public schools in order to privatize them, that would be reason enough to tar and feather the dissembling crooks who have been put in charge at ED. The fact that Bush & Co. are attempting this scam under the pretense of helping poor, minority children, teachers, and parents who are now being ground up and sacrificed in high stakes testing boot camps is reason to get in the faces of legislators to demand the repeal of this ideological lunacy and the firing of the functionaries who continue to perpetrate this legalized child abuse and intellectual genocide against the the poor and impoverished.

These realities, plus the reality of mass firings and school closures, are no longer abstractions for the students, parents, and teachers of 2,300 American schools. Here are some clips from an AP piece:

(NEW YORK)—The scarlet letter in education these days is an "R." It stands for restructuring — the purgatory that schools are pushed into if they fail to meet testing goals for six straight years under the No Child Left Behind law.

Nationwide, about 2,300 schools are either in restructuring or are a year away and planning for such drastic action as firing the principal and moving many of the teachers, according to a database provided to The Associated Press by the Education Department. Those schools are being warily eyed by educators elsewhere as the law's consequences begin to hit home.

Schools fall into this category after smaller changes, such as offering tutoring, fall short. The effort is supposed to amount to a major makeover, and it has created a sense of urgency that in some schools verges on desperation. "This is life and death," says John Deasy, superintendent of schools in Prince George's County, Md., where several schools are coming face to face with the consequences of President Bush's signature education law. "This is very high-stakes work."

. . . .

The 2002 education law, which is up for renewal in Congress, offers a broad menu of options for restructuring. They include firing principals and moving teachers, and calling in turnaround specialists.

. . . .

The pressure to prepare kids for high school is clear at Long Branch Middle School, a school in restructuring in a working-class New Jersey shore town.

The most obvious sign of the pressure is in a public hallway near the school's main entrance where graphs hang in full view of passing students and teachers. Each bears a teacher's name and shows a growth curve, indicating plainly whether students in a class are making progress on reading and math tests given throughout the year.

Superintendent Joseph Ferraina, a former teacher and principal at the school, acknowledges that such discomforting changes make teachers nervous. "It's difficult to change schools," he said. "What often happens is we talk about change, change, change, and we go back to what we felt comfortable with."

Ferraina says the wall charts are helping force his school to rely on testing data throughout the year, not just on the No Child Left Behind spring tests. "There are people working with data every day now," he said. "They're sitting down with people and saying, 'You know what, your class seems to not be doing well in whole numbers. We need to add a lesson in whole numbers.'" The focus on tests worries some who say teachers are focusing too much on preparing kids for exams rather than spending time on important other instruction.

Long Branch, like Far Rockaway, has been organized into small academies where certain subjects are emphasized. The middle school, in a state-of-the-art building, also has moved to block scheduling, where core courses last roughly 90 minutes — twice as long as typical classes. Louis DeAngelis, an eighth-grade English teacher, says that pushes him to be more thoughtful and creative about lesson planning. "You can't get up there and sing and dance. You should be able to go bell to bell," he said.

Whether it's the block scheduling or the other changes, student performance is moving in the right direction at Long Branch. Last year, only special education students missed annual No Child Left Behind benchmarks. Test scores for students with disabilities, for immigrants, poor children and minorities must be separated out under the law. But if one group fails to hit testing benchmarks at a school — like last year at Long Branch — the whole school gets a failing grade. . . .

Other changes the administration is pushing include giving schools in restructuring more options. The Education Department has proposed letting them become charter schools, which are public but operate more freely than traditional schools, regardless of state limits on how many charter schools are allowed. The administration also wants the federal law to override provisions in collective bargaining agreements to ensure failing schools have complete control over who works there. "These are schools where there are some significant problems," Briggs said. "Without more serious action, we're going to keep getting what we've gotten."

Regardless of whether No Child Left Behind is altered, the message is getting to schools that they must make real changes now, said Douglas Anthony, principal of Arrowhead Elementary in Upper Marlboro, Md., a suburb of Washington. During a recent visit, first and fourth graders alike were busy with math and reading basics.

It was around 2 p.m, shortly before the school day was to end, and a time when elementary-age students might typically be playing tag, working on craft projects or just easing into the end of the academic day. But at Arrowhead, a school in the restructuring planning stage, math worksheets were on the desks, kids were sounding out vowels and special-ed teachers were working with small groups of children.

Superintendent Deasy acknowledges the atmosphere at Arrowhead is more intense than at schools that aren't facing restructuring. He said lessons at schools missing testing goals have to be very targeted, and he says there often isn't time for electives and free play like at other schools. . . .

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