Now how did I get off onto WW II? Oh yes yes, I was thinking about Margaret Spellings and her secret weapon to save NCLB. Actually, her new weapon has already been in limited use in the field. It is, essentially, a more malleable explosive agent inside the same crude device that has been used so effectively to blow up urban public schools over the past five years. The new more flexible explosive has the same graduated trip wires and the same annihilation date of 2014 on its doomsday counter. And like the old bomb, no one will be spared, regardless of their innocence, lack of understanding, or poverty level.
From the ED website, December 7 (remember Pearl Harbor):
The Department will conduct an initial review of each proposal to ensure that the growth model meets the seven core principles and that the state is making progress in the required areas.
Ensure that all students are proficient by 2014 and set annual state goals to ensure that the achievement gap is closing for all groups of students identified in the law;
Set expectations for annual achievement based upon meeting grade-level proficiency, not based on student background or characteristics;
Hold schools accountable for student achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics separately;
Ensure that all students in tested grades are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student subgroup, and include all schools and districts;
Include assessments that produce comparable results from grade to grade and year to year in grades three through eight and high school, in both reading/language arts and mathematics; that have been operational for more than one year and have received Full Approval or Full Approval with Recommendations before the state determines AYP based on 2007-2008 assessment results
Track student progress as part of the state data system; and
Include student participation rates and student achievement on a separate academic indicator in the state accountability system.
A few years ago some people warned about the trouble we were headed for in the home mortgage industry, but we ended up waiting until millions began facing foreclosure to act. California schools are heading for a similar fate, and once again, we seem to be waiting for calamity rather than looking ahead to avert it.
This calamity is the full impact of the federal No Child Left Behind law on our schools. Up until now, the brunt of the accountability law has been felt largely by schools attended by poor folks and immigrants, so few have objected to them being labeled "failing schools."
But we're on the verge of a big shift. NCLB demands that all students be proficient in English and mathematics by 2014. Only 43 percent of the state's 6 million students are scoring proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient or better in math.
Student performance has improved slightly over the past six years, according to state test data, but most schools are about to start hitting a wall. That's because California's NCLB targets require proficiency levels to increase substantially in each of the next six years, so that all students reach proficiency.
The label "failure" is soon going to be attached to schools previously considered successful. Before every school in the state is condemned, perhaps it is time to raise some questions.
First, does it promote growth to label schools as failing and threaten to remove funding? In Oakland, we are in the second generation of reconstituted schools. The first round of schools that opened to replace those closed five years ago has hit the fourth year of missing achievement targets, and a number of them have closed. Some of the new schools are innovative and meeting the needs of their students, but even they are likely to crash into the NCLB wall soon.
As a teacher, I know my students respond when they are encouraged, but when told they are failing and threatened with dire consequences, they tend to shut down, rather than improve. We teachers are no different. We entered this profession to make a difference. We would be far better off if we tapped that passion in a positive direction, instead of operating as if teachers need to be threatened in order to improve. . . . . . .