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

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Alfie Kohn on NCLB

From a piece for Resist called Case against tougher standards (ht to Monty Neill):
A Word about NCLB

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) places an overwhelming emphasis on standardized testing as a route to success in school. However, it is also designed to humiliate and hurt the schools that, according to its own warped standards, most need help. Families at those schools are given a green light to abandon them— and, specifically, to transfer to other schools. This, it quickly becomes clear, is an excellent way to sandbag the “successful” schools, too.

Those concerned about education must quit confining their complaints about NCLB to the peripheral problems of implementation or funding. Too many people give the impression that there would be nothing to object to if only their own school had been certified as making adequate progress, or if only Washington were more generous in paying for this assault on local autonomy. We have got to stop prefacing our objections by saying that, while the execution of this legislation is faulty, we agree with its laudable objectives. No. What we agree with is some of the rhetoric used to sell it, invocations of ideals like excellence and fairness. NCLB is not a step in the right direction. It is a deeply damaging, mostly ill-intentioned law, and no one genuinely committed to improving public schools (or to advancing the interests of those who have suffered from decades of neglect and oppression) would want to have anything to do with it.

The party line, of course, is that all these requirements are meant to make public schools improve, and that forcing every state to test every student every year (from third through eighth grades and then again in high school) is intended to identify troubled schools in order to “determine who needs extra help,” as President Bush put it.

To anyone who makes this claim with a straight face, we might respond by asking two questions.

First, how many schools will NCLB-required testing reveal to be troubled that were not previously identified as such? For the last year or so, I have challenged defenders of the law to name a single school anywhere in the country whose inadequacy was a secret until yet another wave of standardized test results was released. So far I have had no takers.
And second, of the many schools and districts that are obviously struggling, how many have received the resources they need, at least without a court order? If conservatives are sincere in saying they want more testing in order to determine where help is needed, what has their track record been in providing that help? The answer is painfully obvious, of course: Many of the same people who justify more standardized tests for information-gathering purposes have also claimed that more money doesn’t produce improvement. The Bush administration’s proposed budgets have fallen far short of what states would need just to implement NCLB itself, and those who point this out are dismissed as malcontents.

Tougher Standards Don’t Make Grade

So, what have the results been of high-stakes testing to this point? To the best of my knowledge, no positive effects have ever been demonstrated, unless you count higher scores on these same tests. More low-income and minority students are dropping out, more teachers (often the best ones) are leaving the profession, and more mind-numbing test preparation is displacing genuine instruction. Why should anyone believe that annual do-or-die testing mandated by the federal government will lead to anything different? Moreover, the engine of this legislation is punishment.

Who will be left undisturbed and sitting pretty? Private schools and companies hoping to take over public schools. In the meantime, various corporations are already benefiting. As The Wall Street Journal stated in December 2003, “Teachers, parents, and principals may have their doubts about No Child Left Behind. But business loves it.” Apart from the obvious bonanza for the giant companies that design and score standardized tests, WSJ further states “hundreds of ‘supplemental service providers’ have already lined up to offer tutoring, including Sylvan, Kaplan Inc. and Princeton Review Inc. ¨ Kaplan says revenue for its elementary- and secondary-school division has doubled since No Child Left Behind passed.”
In addition to testing and tutoring profits, corporate impact is also seen in the burgeoning sales of software to track student performance and interpret test data; classes for administrators and teachers to master test-prep techniques; and mid-career professional development courses to enable teachers to retain their “highly qualified” status. . . .

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