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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Please Reprise Yourself

and make yourself at home. I'll be back in a few days.

From October 1, 2005:

The Education Reformation of NCLB and the Crusade to Kill Public Schools

Choosing the language that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross used to describe the process of dying, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on September 28 that “I think we have gone in to all the phases with ‘No Child Left Behind,’ –we’re into acceptance, if you will.” Whether “we will” or “will not” remains to be seen, but Spellings had one thing right: the American public school that has been the institutional bulwark for democratic aspirations for nearly 200 years is in the fight of its life. Ironically, it has been the corporate socialists who now control the federal government that reached the “acceptance stage” long before any of us knew that a sickness had set in. The campaign for acceptance of the imminent death of the public schools and the rise of privatized corporate welfare schools has been a concerted and continuing campaign, whose outcome is, indeed, certain unless changes are demanded by the American public in federal education policy now. How did we get to this stage?

It should come as no surprise that many of us grew up with the belief that the public school was the institution through which we as Americans come to realize the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. After all, that is what we were taught in school, and what our teachers were taught, and their teachers before them. It is one of our cherished chestnuts that goes all the way back to Horace Mann, who masterfully pitched his case for public schools to a wary public in the early19th Century. What we were not taught in school, and therefore less likely to know, is that Mann’s plea for financial support to the skeptical industrialists and business owners of his day focused on, instead of liberty, providing a morally-prepared work force that would offer the factory owner the best kind of property insurance for his valuable investments. Workers educated in the new common schools would show up on time, take orders, and not vandalize the equipment. Though the liberty pitch to the common man was important in garnering widespread support, Mann’s idealistic salesmanship actually prevailed on the strength of this latter argument, even if the system that Mann inspired was unable to ever fully deliver on either of his promises. What would be left in the wake of those unfulfilled promises to the Boston Brahmin as well as the Massachusetts country farmer are the relics of reform efforts that now scatter the historical path that lead up to the door of the 21st Century schoolhouse.

Our modern history, then, is strewn with examples of efforts to exorcise the perceived mediocrity of the public schools that resulted from that initial over-promising by Mann and other promoters of Common School Crusade. Systematic reform goes back at least to the beginning of the 20th Century, when progressives sought to emulate the new science of efficiency and scientific management that brought us the assembly line and mass production. Having taken charge of the management of public education under the leadership of academics such as Stanford University’s Elwood Cubberley, the efficiency crowd sought to make the American school a smooth running and efficient business that could sustain the unending production of knowledgeable and malleable workers for what seemed to be America’s unquenchable industrial engine. The case that the efficiency reformers made for turning schools away from the classical goals of education centered upon the need to counter the economic threat of the German industrial machine just after the turn of the 20th Century. It was essentially an economic and national security argument based on fear that made it possible to turn “failing schools” into sorting machines that would use the new efficient science of the primitive IQ tests to decide children’s future work slots in a carefully-engineered society for which the zealots for efficiency campaigned heavily.

The disgruntled and displaced educational traditionalists, who had enjoyed centuries of dominance based on an unremitting system of memorizing, reciting, and strict discipline, lay in wait for an opportunity to attack the new social efficiency and utility-driven schools. They got their first big break in 1957, when the Soviets were first to launch the man-made satellite, Sputnik. Traditionalists like Arthur Bestor and Hyman Rickover quickly took advantage of the opening, scoring big with a receptive and gullible mass media by railing against the flabby school curriculum that had given the knowledge advantage to the Russians, thus placing American national security in jeopardy. Not mentioned were the intelligence and economic policy failures that allowed the Soviets to move ahead, and not mentioned was the complacency of American business to embrace the emerging technologies of the time. Not mentioned, either, was the fear that schools had lost control of the young, who seemed more fascinated with rock-n-roll than they did with those 3 Rs.

Thus the successful strategy of blaming the schools from the early century came to be used once more, this time against those who used it first. Blaming the schools worked to create an effective scapegoat that sold newspapers, which, in turn made the need for reform widely talked about and eventually accepted, thus ushering in an ideological solution desperate for educational problems to fix. Thus became the pattern for the large education reform movements in public education. It must be noted, too, that in 1969 when the USA was first to land a man on the moon, credit for that national victory did not go to the immediate turnaround in the failing American school system, but to the ingenuity and can-do spirit that coalesced in a cooperative venture by American business, government, and the investment communities. Never mind that the schools were not to blame in the first place.

The same pattern would be repeated in 1983, when “dumbed-down schools” were blamed for the economic threat by the Japanese and other Asian economies, whose schools were obviously much better than ours. American schools were so bad, said A Nation at Risk, that they had taken the United States to the brink of “unilateral educational disarmament.” Not mentioned in this analysis was the failure of America’s automakers and other industries to re-tool and re-invest to keep pace with energy and environmental conditions, and never mind the accumulating evidence for needed economic policy changes that the U. S. government had failed to acknowledge or to make a priority. This time, however, reform of the public schools would not be enough for reformers: the situation would require an alternative to the “public school monopoly,” as the first President Bush would call the school situation during a summit at Charlottesville, Virginia in 1989 with corporate CEOs and the nation’s governors. By the early 1990s, however, when the USA’s economy began an unprecedented surge that left Japan and others in the economic dust, it is worth noting that credit, once again, did not go to the immediate turnaround of the American schools, but to sound economic policy and to an entrepreneurial exploitation of technological advances. Never mind that the schools had not produced the crisis in the first place, just as they had not effected the solution.

Now, fifteen years later and well advanced into an era of testing hysteria that has left America’s children and parents edgy and anxious and our educators demoralized and exhausted, comes another education summit in February 2005, again in Virginia, and this time with the world’s top technocrat, Bill Gates, delivering the keynote. In the sights of the test-based reformers now is the American high school, as flabby it would seem as America’s school children and totally unprepared to insure the continuance of America’s economic predominance in the world. The high schools are so bad, it would seem, that students are leaving in droves, creating an embarrassing dropout rate for the world’s bastion of equal opportunity and economic success.

Those that are not leaving, according to the now-familiar narrative, are entering college without the basics that will assure their success in the high-tech jobs of the future. These students are so unprepared, says the familiar refrain, that corporations are looking to other countries to fill the need. Not mentioned is the fact that those high-tech and low-tech jobs are being funneled offshore into foreign job markets by people like Mr. Gates and the other CEOs at the Virginia summit who are unwilling to pay American workers a fair wage. Not mentioned, either, by the reform-by-testing crowd is the sad fact that, of the ten states with the lowest graduation rates, all ten already have high school exit exams. And nine of them have had exit exams for more than 10 years. The solution, nonetheless, is clear: higher standards and more high-stakes tests.

The great diversion continues unabated, this time, however, with some built-in solutions to that public school monopoly that Reagan and GHW Bush could not crack.

No Child Left Behind is different from all the other educational reforms that have preceded it—this time the reformers are assured of a win, regardless of the outcome. If schools are able to achieve the impossible and attain the 100 percent math and reading proficiency by 2014 that the legislation requires, then the reformers will have threatened, bullied, and shamed their way to educational success by having rendered our schools into scripted testing factories. If the more probable scenario develops (psychometricians say certain), however, and a large majority of American schools are clear failures or on the “Federal watch-list” before or by 2014, then the road to school privatization will be clear sailing. By then, American parents will be shell-shocked and willing to try anything to avoid another one of those Federally-mandated letters telling them that their children are failing because their schools are failing. And state legislatures, broken financially and in spirit by then from the under-funded burdens of NCLB implementation, will be desperate enough to turn the whole effort over to the EMOs of an education industry that will be ramped up, ready, and waiting to pounce.

What separates the current reform efforts from all others in American history is the degree to which millions of American children are suffering, are dropping out, or are being labeled as failures at an early age in ways that will forever leave them behind in a world of disenfranchisement or poverty that no standard or test can touch. Beyond this utter tragedy that is concealed under a cynical and hollow rhetoric that would make Horace Mann blush, there is a deeper tragedy still: for were we to achieve the impossible as required by NCLB with its 100 percent testing proficiency requirement, we will have by then narrowed the focus of the school curriculum and teaching to the narrow confines of that which is tested. Regardless of how valid those tests are likely to be, and experts like James Popham says that 90% of them are junk, this will tragically, perhaps, leave us even more unprepared to deal with the changing world events and challenges that will assuredly come, more unaware and unappreciative of our own diversity and the democratic adaptation that a healthy future requires, and more blinded to our imaginative and critical capacities that have thus far assured America’s cultural and scientific eminence in the world of nations. Is this the educational success to which we aspire? If so, then what should we call failure?

To those who continue to support an educational policy of false promises that threatens psychological and intellectual genocide against our children, and thus our future, let me ask you to go into the schools and see what has already happened there before you continue down this road. Ask elementary teachers and students about what has happened to the joy of teaching, learning , and of coming to school. Ask principals about what has happened to recess and field trips and civic purpose. Ask curriculum coordinators what has happened to the social studies, health, and the arts. Ask counselors about student behavior and teacher morale. Ask the public what it means when their local schools’ Title I dollars are used to pay private tutoring firms who are accountable to no one except their own Washington lobbyists and the insiders at US DOE that shovel them their millions. Ask parents about what it means when their children pass their subjects and are left behind because they did not pass a test. Ask them and listen, and you will begin to hear a rumble, steady and getting stronger, moving upward—signaling that the American public will not go so gentle into that night of the corporate socialists.

Jim Horn

Friday, January 23, 2009

Will Real Oversight and Standards Spoil the Charter School Looting Party?

A entirely phony brand of accountability (NCLB) has brought urban public schools to the brink of collapse, while institutionalizing the entirely unaccountable charter school solution that is supposed to replace those collapsing public schools. Pretty neat trick.

Perhaps some real accountability will be the first step in rebuilding urban public schools. For when real oversight, public governance, and the end of tax giveaways come to corporate charter schools, much of the Business Roundtable's impetus for supporting them will disappear quicker than you can say educational entrepreneur. Then perhaps we can get down the real work of public school renewal, rather than offering up guaranteed tax credits for corporate interests to destroy urban public schools with their parrot learning and detention testing camps manned by unqualifed, temporary script readers working for peanuts.

Do you think the new Administration will notice, or will they barrel ahead with their plan to beef up the charter industry by doubling the federal commitment to them?

From the Star Tribune:
By NORMAN DRAPER, Star Tribune
January 22, 2009

Minnesota appears ready to lay some tough love on one of its most celebrated school choice creations -- charter schools.

Big changes in the way the state's 153 charter schools are monitored and regulated are likely to emerge from this year's legislative session. If so, it would be the first time since 1991, when the state blazed a national trail by passing charter school legislation, that state lawmakers have overhauled the system in such a way.

Minnesota's charters, which serve 30,000 students, will probably face a future of tighter controls, more oversight and increased training for charter school teachers and governing boards. Over the years, charter schools have been battered by problems with poor student performance, fiscal woes, conflicts of interest and charges of inappropriate mixing of public education and private religion. . . .
And here is, yet, another prime example of what is going on all across the country in these unregulated "non-profit" sewage puddles. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Germantown Settlement Charter School, already fighting a district decision to close it, faces an exodus of staff and other problems that threaten its continued operation.

More than 17 teachers and administrators have quit the troubled middle school since September, including the principal, who left 10 days ago. Former staffers say special-education students are not receiving services they need; some eighth-grade classrooms have had no heat.

The school has staved off an eviction order for today at its campus at 5538 Wayne Ave.

The cash-strapped charter scraped up the final installment of $13,538 Friday to satisfy a court judgment of more than $157,000 for past-due rent and fees.

In his resignation letter, principal Jeffrey Williams told the school's board that he was "concerned about the health and safety of the kids." He said he got no response.

Special-education teacher Shober Hairston, who quit last week, said he left because it was impossible to do his job. The school lacked resources and students' records were out of date.

"They're 'playing school' now," Hairston said. "It's sad. The parents don't know."

The school, which enrolls 440 students in grades five though eight, has appealed the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's October decision that it should shut down.

State and federal law enforcement agencies also are investigating allegations that the school diverted some of the $31 million in taxpayer money it received over nine years in order to prop up other nonprofits operated by its parent group, Germantown Settlement, a community-development organization with an array of nonprofit and for-profit subsidiaries. . . .
I think they call that leverage in some business circles, yes?

Last updated: 4:30 pm

Two More Reasons I'm a Card-carrying Member of the ACLU


CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the state law requiring a moment of silence in public schools across Illinois is unconstitutional, saying it crosses the line separating church and state.

“The statute is a subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion,” the judge, Robert W. Gettleman, said in his ruling. . . .

. . . . The “teacher is required to instruct her pupils, especially in the lower grades, about prayer and its meaning as well as the limitations on their ‘reflection,’ ” Judge Gettleman ruled.

“The plain language of the statute, therefore, suggests an intent to force the introduction of the concept of prayer into the schools,” he ruled. . . .


The Minnesota chapter of the ACLU has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against an Inver Grove Heights-based charter school for using taxpayer money to promote religion.

"Minnesotans are not interested in having their tax dollars go to fund sectarian schools," the ACLU's Chuck Samuelson said. "The money's going to the mosque. It's all the same thing, the school is the mosque which is the property owner," Samuelson said.

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is the first entity named in the suit. A communications firm hired by the school responded to the suit in a statement. "We are surprised by today's actions. . . . .

. . . . The ACLU alleges teachers illegally lead prayers; the school has said students lead any prayers. The school has also said some kids stay after school to attend a Muslim studies class which parents pay for.

The ACLU says the school endorses religious practices by using state funded buses for the kids, after they've attended those religious-based classes.

"The real client in this case is the first amendment," Samuelson said. He also says the school is set to receive $3.8 million in state funding for this current school year.

"We are also suing the Department of Education for failure to supervise," Samuelson added.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Infusing 19th Century Science Skills Into Texas Schools

The theocrats strike again, and Rick Perry and Dr. Don McLeroy are at the head of creationist column. A clip from the NY Times:
. . . .Even as federal courts have banned the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology courses, social conservatives have gained 7 of 15 seats on the Texas board in recent years, and they enjoy the strong support of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

The chairman of the board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist, pushed in 2003 for a more skeptical version of evolution to be presented in the state’s textbooks, but could not get a majority to vote with him. Dr. McLeroy has said he does not believe in Darwin’s theory and thinks that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event, thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion as scientists contend. . . .

Chicago's Ariel Community Academy Offers Example of Business Roundtable in Action

Guest commentary by graduate student, Kenneth Libby:
The Lessons We Teach Our Children
Kenneth Libby

"Who doesn't love to talk about money? That really makes it fun," (1) says Connie Moran, the Investment Program Director at Ariel Community Academy, a unique school operating within the Chicago Public Schools system. Children at Ariel Community Academy, serving children in Kindergarden through eighth grade, spend their day studying more than just the traditional subjects. In fact, nearly 10 percent of the school's operating budget is dedicated to a single subject: wealth management. "Like the bulls of Wall Street, the saving and investment curriculum is stampeding through the classrooms," claims a 2006 report published by the school. "Future portfolio managers, accountants, investment bankers and, most importantly, fiscally savvy young people are emerging from the Academy's unique saving and investment curriculum."(2)

Ariel Community Academy represents the public-private partnership envisioned by education reformers on both sides of the political aisle. The academy draws approximately half of their funding from the Chicago Public Schools and the other half from a private investor, the Ariel Education Initiative. As such, it is neither a charter school nor your traditional neighborhood public school. The school opened in 1996 while the Ariel Education Initiative was under the direction of Arne Duncan, the future CEO of Chicago Public Schools and President-elect Obama's choice for Secretary of Education.

Ariel Investments, a firm with over $7 billion in assets, provides the funding for the Ariel Education Initiative, a program "committed to advancing educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas." In addition to funding the Ariel Community Academy, the initiative funds the Extended Day Program. "In the Ariel Extended Day Program, our goal is to expose the multiple intelligences that exist within every child. Academically, culturally and physically, these students are learning that an education is not limited by time, but by their own imagination," according to Dawn Welles, the director of the program (2). Evidently, the Ariel Community Academy does not have time during the regular school day to expose children's multiple intelligences: the school recently mandated two hours of math instruction for students in grades K-5 and three and a half hours for grades six through eight.

According to Ariel's strategic plan, "teacher training in the use of technology (Learning First, DIBELS, etc.) and using technology in mathematics assessments have been effective" (3). Learning First and DIBELS represent the kind of "scientifically-based" methods capable of measuring a limited range of child's reading but utterly incapable of teaching critical thinking skills, a child's ability to connect words in print to their unfolding world, or meaningful comprehension. More importantly, these scientifically-based programs are designed specifically to raise standardized test scores with the unfortunate side-effect of stunting children's interest in reading. But at the Ariel Community Academy, high-stakes testing is big business not simply reserved for weekdays. Part of the private-public partnership includes the Saturday Morning Teacher Corp, with employees of Ariel Investments, Nuveen Investments, and Lehman Brothers volunteering to "spend two hours every Saturday morning working with third- through eighth-grade students to improve their math and reading skills and prepare them for state-required, standardized tests "(2).

The most unique project, the Ariel-Nuveen Investment Program, is intended to "demystify the financial world by providing an opportunity for the student's to manage a real $20,000 portfolio."(5) The $20,000 provided to each incoming class is managed by Ariel and Nuveen representatives until select seventh- and eight-grade students are ready to take over as the class reaches middle school. When student's graduate from eighth grade, the original $20,000 is given to the incoming class of first graders while the profits are divided in two, half to be used as a class gift to the school and the rest divided up among the students as either cash or college savings plans.

The class of 2007's portfolio shows most of their money was invested in the Ariel Fund and Nuveen Rittenhouse Growth Fund ($30,000 of the $33,000) (4). It is safe to say that most classes have their portfolio filled with Ariel or Nuveen Funds (after all, their representatives decide where the money goes until the children reach seventh grade), money used to teach children about investing in the stock market and provide a modest sum for the children's' future education. On December 31st, 2008, the Ariel Fund closed at $22.93, down from around $40.00 at the beginning of the school year in September. Nuveen Rittenhouse Growth Fund closed at $16.10, down from around $22.00 four months ago.

This year must have thrown a curveball for the program, a program suffering from the same faulty assumption of Wall Street investors: investing in the stock market guarantees a return. Upon graduating, "the original $20,000 grant is then turned over to the next incoming first grade class, making the program self-perpetuating," proclaims the Ariel website (5). The class of 2009 undoubtedly watched their portfolio shrink during 2008. How do the teachers explain the greed and corruption that brought down Wall Street and the student's portfolio? How do children feel about witnessing the beginnings of a college savings plan evaporate, knowing they'll be unable to give back to their school and next year's first grade class due to non-existent profits? How does the school manage to explain the "principles of business, economics and ownership - all of which have a lasting impact on their personal and financial growth"(6) in the wake of Treasury looting, unprecedented corporate unaccountability, and business plans guided solely by greed?

There are reasons to be concerned about the quality of information and instruction provided by an educational institution funded by corporate interests. Can we reasonably expect the Ariel Community Academy, backed by a Wall Street investment firm, to provide a critical analysis of the market meltdown, including addressing the human impact: the loss of retirement funds, jobs, health insurance, pension plans, college savings, and homes? Do conversations about economics include addressing the record number of Americans on food stamps, currently around 10% of our population, or are they limited to opportunity costs, start-up capital, and profits? Are the economics of poverty, a topic on the other end of the financial spectrum, studied as vigorously as NASDAQ, the Dow, and international markets? You cannot indoctrinate students into the philosophy of Wall Street, while failing to study the economic conditions keeping fellow humans, including one in five American children, in the cycle of poverty.

The Ariel Community Academy's homepage includes a short video about their unique investment program. Various children describe the program, showing a clear interest in investing, stocks, portfolios, markets, etc. "I think that I actually am ahead of some other kids that aren't learning about investments and stocks," reports one girl. "I remember I got into a fight with my friend about the war in Iraq, and I look at it from a business perspective, she looks at it from 'well if we pull out da-da-das gonna happen,' and I'm like, 'well if we pull out da-da-das gonna happen to the economy.' She's like, 'Why are you talking about the economy?'"(1) The Iraq War, an immoral if not illegal act, comes down to an economic decision when we raise our children to view the world through the corporate mentality, the mentality of "future portfolio managers, accountants, [and] investment bankers...emerging from the Academy's unique saving and investment curriculum"(2). Profits, above all else; the determination to force our economy forward in pursuit of profits despite the human cost. Economists like Larry Summers and Paul Volcker (both working for the Obama administration) would be proud: they see the world through the same lens as this young Ariel Community Student taught to view events strictly on economic terms.

Ariel claims to "demystify" the stock market though a carefully managed stock portfolio. Teaching about Wall Street presents a great risk when the information is presented from an obviously biased source. The demystifying process may, in fact, rewrap our economic system in new garb, ignoring the same problems associated with neoliberal capitalism: greed juxtaposed with extreme poverty. The education dialogue often includes the need for "21st Century Skills" in the workforce presumably because there will be a demand for these skills (a proposition we should question). Undoubtedly, our children need more than the "21st Century Skills" - we need to learn to share resources, reconcile our differences, gain a deeper understanding of various world cultures and histories, and learn to take care of each other.

As an educator, hearing a child speak about the war in Iraq on strictly financial terms is a strong indication of an institution's failure to reconcile the desire for money with a humanistic approach to the world, including international politics. I cringe to hear a child speak about a war impacting the American economy, a war that has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and undoubtedly halted the education of Iraqi children. Ariel Investments viewed the child's take on the war with enough approval to post it on their website, oblivious to the ethical shortcomings exhibited by a child indoctrinated into Wall Street's mentality: profits over people.

Ignoring the expansion of private corporations in our public education system puts us at risk of expanding the military-industrial complex into the military-industrial-educational complex, a process Henry Giroux contends has already happened through No Child Left Behind, the media, and other cultural factors. The appointment of Duncan, a CEO and not an educator, should be taken as an ominous warning for those of us opposing the private takeover of the American education system under the cloak of the “public-private partnerships”, “school choice”, and “innovation.” Ariel Investments claim to be “committed to strengthening the neighborhoods and cities in which we live and work, practicing a hands-on model of corporate responsibility.”(5) We’ve seen corporate responsibility during the last year. Our children’s education is an asset far too valuable to entrust with the same minds operating on Wall Street.

1. Video on Ariel Community Academy website: http://schools.cuip.net/ariel/?page_id=113

2. Ariel Education Initiative Brochure 2006: http://www.arielinvestments.com/LibraryFiles//AEI/AEI_Brochure_2006.pdf

3. Ariel Community Academy Strategic Plan 2006-2008 SIPAAA report: http://www.stratplan.cps.k12.il.us/pdfs/SIPAAA/Reports/

4. Ariel Education Initiative Brochure 2007: http://www.arielinvestments.com/LibraryFiles//AEI/AEI_Brochure_2007.pdf

5. Ariel-Nuveen Investment Program website: http://www.arielinvestments.com/content/view/108/1068/

6. Ariel Education Initiative website: http://www.arielinvestments.com/content/view/106/1066/

Rove Continues to Lie With Impunity About NCLB

The oft-repeated bald-faced lie is uttered once more in a saccharine homily to our former Torturer-in-Chief:
Mr. Bush was right to pass No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requiring states to set up tough accountability systems that measure every child's progress at school. As a result, reading and math scores have risen more in the last five years since NCLB than in the prior 28 years.
And, once more, the facts from an October 2008 piece:
With Margaret Spellings getting in a final safari in Africa before she turns in her keys, and as the rest of the incompetent Bush cronies at ED are cleaning out their desks and working on their resumes, the White House has simply side-stepped the Departent of Education and issued its own propaganda response to a recent New York Times piece by Sam Dillon on the impossible testing targets that NCLB uses to undercut the public schools.

In a Letter to the Editor published yesterday, Domestic Policy Director, Karl Zinsmeister, both lied and dissembled in making claims regarding reading scores during the NCLB reign of terror:
Over the last five years, 9-year-olds in the United States have made more progress in reading than in the previous three decades combined. Achievement gaps between white and black students in reading and math are now the narrowest they have ever been.

The first sentence by Zinmeister is simply a bald-faced lie. Here is NAEP's own chart showing average reading scores for 4th grade students. It shows a 2 point gain since 2002. Before NCLB became law, between 2000 and 2002, there was a 6 point gain. (Click to enlarge chart).

And here is the NAEP chart on 8th grade reading averages, and the picture is even worse. It shows scores actually dropping a point since 2002. (Click to enlarge chart).

In terms of the achievement gap being the narrowest it has "ever been," the final chart from NAEP shows the reality. In 2002, there was a thirty point gap in 4th grade reading scale scores. That gap for 4th grade reading has narrowed by 2 points since 2002, even with the draconian full-time test prep chain gang teaching that has replaced caring teachers and balance curriculums in schools with mostly minority and/or poor students. (Click to enlarge chart).

It is long past time that these liars, dissemblers, and epistemological thugs be run out of Washington on a rail.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Arne Duncan's Preppy Brand of Corporate Socialism

"Corporate socialism" -- the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks and misconduct -- is displacing capitalist canons. . . . Civic and political movements must call for a decent separation of corporation and state. --Ralph Nader

We're trying to blur the lines between the public and the private. --Arne Duncan

In a modern-day version of A Modest Proposal that, unfortunately, must be read as allegory rather than satire, the scions of the Business Roundtable have a plan to replace urban public schools with test prep chain gangs chartered by non-profit corporations. These non-profit corporations are to be funded by tax dollars and by corporate donations that garner dollar for dollar tax credits for the corporate givers. The management of these schools may then be farmed out to Edison, Green Dot, or another of the for-profit macschool outfits. Everyone gets fat in the process except, of course, the taxpayers and the children, who become units churned out by the testing machine. No school boards to provide oversight, accountability, or standards of conduct, and none of those professionally-prepared teachers who have diversionary and expensive interests in academic freedom, collective bargaining, or retirement plans. Meanwhile, the gaps remain gaping.

Arne Duncan has been the poster boy for this movement in Chicago. Below is a piece that is posted at Common Dreams and elsewhere:
Published on Monday, January 19, 2009 by TomDispatch.com

Reformer, Deformer, or Renewer?

I am glad the Republocratic word warriors led by Frank Luntz and the corporate media echo chamber nailed up the "education reformer" frame around themselves, while pushing everyone else out. Personally, I think education deformers would be a much more suitable frame.

Nonetheless, the carrying away of the reform flag by the high tech antiquarians leaves new possibility for all of us who would like to be part of the rebirth of a public commitment to schools aimed at sustaining our democracy and building individual happiness--a new possibility that will be constructed upon the realization of educational renewal. Let all of us, then, who would like to leave the testocracy behind become part of the educational renewal movement.

So even though the great national nightmare is over (hey, hey, hey, goodbye!--see below), Bush and Spellings left a real reformer in charge at ED. We will have to see if the new President can reign in the reformers, i. e. the closet antiquarians, so that educational renewal can become a part of the larger national renewal that he talks so much about. Or if all the talk of renewal is just hype.

Teacher Appeals to New President on NCLB

Here is part of an open letter from Bill Heller of upstate New York:

. . . .Now, all year long, precious days are lost and enormous amounts of money are spent on annual testing. Out here in the country we have a saying: "Nobody ever fattened a calf by weighing it." Unfortunately, we've figured out that only tested subjects "count" anymore. Many of our limited resources get pumped into the few areas that get tested; other areas are given short shrift when it comes to funding, staffing and, more importantly time. In order to combat this two-tiered system of "core" and "non-core" subjects, time requirements need to be imposed so that all students at all levels get the chance to take music, art, foreign languages, vocational training and other non-tested subjects.

One more change that needs to be made in NCLB is how we treat special education students. In order to play the NCLB game and to avoid having the stigma of being labeled a "failing school," there is a lot of pressure not to classify needy students in order to avoid having to disaggregate data and make AYP for special education students as a separate subgroup. In addition, students with very limited abilities are dumped into classes that are way beyond their developmental abilities instead of being given appropriate instruction at a level at which they can be successful. Some have been forced to sit through lengthy exams that they have no hope of passing. In the same vein, we need to recognize that not all students will want to pursue a four-year college degree. In fact, we need more tool and die makers, more skilled carpenters, plumbers, and electricians; more nurses, EMTs and child care workers. Vocational programs could be made just as rigorous, incorporating meaningful certification and licensure requirements attainable by the time a student graduates from high school. . . .

. . . .Above all, Mr. President-elect, I hope you can help create a climate of zero tolerance for bashing teachers. The teachers I work with will bend over backwards to help students as long as they are given a say in how best to do it and as long as they are not made to feel that their health care and pensions are not under constant attack in the media and the marketplace. Those who would like to use business models and metaphor as a solution to the "failures" of the public schools are mistaken. Businesses can be held accountable for a finished product because they can control the quality of the raw materials used. We need greater cooperation, not greater competition among schools and among teachers. Public schools take all comers, which is as it should be. America's teachers do the best with what they have. Anything that needs fixing in the public schools needs first to be "fixed" in the home and in the values promulgated by the mass media. Take care of the home and the schools will fix themselves.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Title I Funds to Tutoring Companies Shown Dump Worthy Once More

President Obama today:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
From the Detroit Free Press:
. . . ."It's [tutoring] not being taken advantage of by students, those who are taking advantage of it are not showing improvement in test scores, and the providers are not being rigorously monitored," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy, which recently released a nationwide study that found little academic gain from a program nationally. . . .

. . . .The No Child Left Behind law requires that students be offered tutoring, called Supplemental Education Services, paid for with federal Title I dollars, when their schools fail to meet performance standards for three consecutive years. Nationwide, it costs about $2.5 billion.

To gauge the effectiveness of the tutoring in Michigan, the Free Press reviewed fifth-, eighth- and ninth-grade MEAP results for 2005, 2006 and 2007 in selected subjects for schools required to provide tutoring. Among the findings:
  • The average increase in fifth-grade students meeting expectations in English at schools where tutoring on the MEAP test was required was 1.7 percenage points, compared to a 2.8 percentage point increase statewide.
  • Eighth-grade math showed a 4.7 percentage point bump for schools with tutoring but an 8.4 point increase statewide.
  • Ninth-grade social studies saw an average 15.4 percentage point decrease among schools forced to offer tutoring, compared to a 4 point decline statewide.
The tutoring sounds good in theory but is failing in practice, Jennings said. There are no educational requirements for tutors beyond a high school diploma, and nothing to guarantee students are tutored in the areas they need the most help. . . .

"A Nation Cannot Prosper Long When It Favors Only the Prosperous"

Monday, January 19, 2009

No War Criminal Is Above the Law

Jay Mathews Pumps His New KIPP Book on MLK Day

By strenuous overreaching across inappropriate analogies, Jay Mathews today managed to offer a big plug for his new book, to give a passing nod to Martin Luther King, to note that he and Barack Obama have been members of the same church denomination, and to become the fiery advocate for the notion that every child should be judged, not the color of her skin, but by the content of her bubble sheet.

To accept anything less, according to Mathews, is worse than engaging in the "bigotry of low expectations:" it is to become a "sorter," as in one who sorts, in a racist sort of way, the cans from the cannots. Sorters sit at the opposite end of Mathews' false dichotomy from "educator," and educators believe that everyone should take the SAT, not just white folks.
These days, those of us interested in schools -- parents, students, educators, researchers, journalists -- are not sure if we believe in teaching or sorting. Is it best to strain ourselves and our children trying to raise everyone to a higher academic level, or does it make more sense to prepare each child for a life in which he or she will be comfortable? The people I admire in our schools want to be teachers. Sorting, they say, is a new form of the old racism but subtler and in some ways harder to resist.
I suspect that Mathews must be talking to some of those Teach for America (Awhile) anti-teacher ed scholars who have not suffered through a history of ed course, or who have not been around long enough to know that sorting has been around longer than they have. It began, Jay, just about a hundred years ago, in fact, with another group of bold reformers looking to "scientifically manage" schools, schools that would be based on "scientific" curriculums that would be assessed using "scientific" tools, i.e., standardized tests.

What happened then, Jay, is the same thing that is happening today among those who will not let past mistakes get in the way of making the same ones again. What the bold reformers of a hundred years wanted most was a "scientific" way to engineer a society that would assure the protection of privilege and power for those who already had it, while giving full lip service to a meritocracy based on testing, which would, in good Jeffersonian fashion, "rake a few geniuses from the rubbish." Sounding familiar, Jay?

By mid-century, we were ready to let the SAT do the sorting for us--the poor from the middling classes and the middling from the upper classes--so that the privileged would be left blameless for doing what their well-designed tests would, otherwise, do for them.

It has only been in the past thirty years that the privileged could no longer ignore the fact that their tests left out the poor. Unfortunately for everyone it seems, except the test companies, the remedy for the disparity has not been sought by ending the poverty that, as Dr. King knew, was the source for the testing gaps. The remedy has been sidestepped by diversions aimed to blame the teachers or the schools or the parents for not closing the gaps. And most unfortunate for the poorest children where the gaps are greatest, the privileged now devise chain gang schools of forced learning to change what is inside the children's heads, rather than to change the social inequities, lack of opportunities, and covert racism that such interventions leave soundly in place. That's where you come in, Jay.

Most of us, for humane reasons, think it is best that people choose lives that fit. That is why the sons and daughters of housecleaners are advised to take vocational courses and why impoverished children are less often encouraged to take the SAT than are affluent children. This notion of a place for everyone was used by defenders of slavery before the Civil War and of Jim Crow after it, but we never think of it that way. We say we don't want to put unneeded stress on children who can't handle it.

In this new era, which will win: teaching or sorting?

So in "this new era" that looks so much like the old era that antiquarians and bold reformers are now indistinguishable, Mathews has managed to demolish any distinction (in his own head, at least) between testing and teaching, even though the testing-teaching he advocates is the most socially acceptable and efficient way of sorting the poor that the privileged of our society has yet devised. In the meantime, those who remain defiantly unwilling to do anything about poverty focus more and more on rigid interventions, more hours, and more parrot learning. We have, indeed, reached the era of Kill the Child, Save the Test Taker. We have, in fact, reached the Age of KIPP.
They [KIPPsters] are part of an informal movement including many veterans of the Teach for America program who have made similar progress with such organizations as Achievement First, Aspire, Edison, Green Dot, IDEA, Imagine Schools, Noble Street and Uncommon Schools. But their numbers are small, and their critics large and powerful.
Mathews would have us believe that KIPP and the other corporate welfare outfits he names here are struggling mom and pop operations out to bring enlightenment to the urban poor, when, in fact, they are backed by billions of ready to be tax free dollars from the largest American corporations that are funneled through investment funds and foundations. And, of course, with time running out before the American people understand the extent of the scam, all the bottom feeders are thrown into the same bin as the KIPPsters. Might as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dr. King Knew the Education Problem is a Poverty Problem

From Dr. King's last book, Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community:
Where We Are Going

In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: There are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.

Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.

While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing -- they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.

We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society.

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote, in Progress and Poverty:

"The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased."

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.

Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure. First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not the lowest levels of income. To guarantee an income at the floor would simply perpetuate welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions. Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows. Were it permitted to remain static under growth conditions, the recipients would suffer a relative decline. If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income has risen, then the guaranteed income would have to be adjusted upward by the same percentage. Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur, nullifying the gains of security and stability.

This proposal is not a "civil rights" program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.

Our nation's adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be facilitated if we realize that for nearly forty years two groups in our society have already been enjoying a guaranteed income. Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused social values that these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest. The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule, through welfare benefits.

John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which he describes as "not much more than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by 'experts' in Vietnam."

The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

Difference in School Test Scores Based on Social Background, Duh

Dr. Barry McGraw is formerly Deputy Director of Education for OECD. From The Australian:
NATIONAL Curriculum Board head Barry McGaw yesterday called on Canberra to release suppressed international test data comparing the performance of Australian public and private schools.

Australia is one of only three countries that suppress the results of OECD tests believed to show that a student's social background rather than their school is a better indicator of academic performance.

Professor McGaw believes the results are likely to bear out the crucial role of social background, such as parental education and occupation.

Of the 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Australia, Belgium and France are the only members that don't reveal the breakdown of public and private school results in the OECD's regular testing of 15-year-olds.

"Australia shouldn't be suppressing that piece of information," Professor McGaw, a former head of education at the Paris-based OECD, told The Australian.

"The Government obviously know which are the government schools and which are the private schools in the data set, but that information is removed from the file sent to Paris."

He said analysis of OECD test results internationally showed private schools tended to outperform state schools. However, he said that in all countries that outperformance directly reflected social background.

"How much of the difference between the schools is due to that and not due to what the school does but just due to whom they enrol? The answer is, in all countries, all of it," Professor McGaw said.

The ban on the release of the information has been in place since the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment test started in 2000. The PISA test compares achievement in reading, mathematics and science across 57 countries.

About 14,000 Australian students from randomly selected schools are set to take this year's test between July and September.

Based on the raw PISA data from Australian schools, Professor McGaw said it was already clear that 70 per cent of school performance is dependent on the background of the students. . . .

FairTest's Open Letter to the President-Elect

From FairTest. HT to Ken Bernstein:
Keep Your Promises to Fix NCLB

January 7, 2009

Dear President-elect Obama:

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) congratulates you on your historic victory and endorses your message of uniting all Americans to work for positive change.

During your campaign, you spoke with power and clarity about the serious challenges facing our schools due to the flaws of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. On the seventh anniversary of NCLB being signed into law by George W. Bush, we urge you and secretary of education nominee Arne Duncan to keep your promises to America’s children and work quickly to address NCLB’s flaws through the reauthorization process.

Today, a growing majority of Americans across the political spectrum recognize that NCLB has failed to live up to its promise to close learning gaps between racial groups and raise the performance of the nation’s schools. Most agree it has transformed too many schools into mind-numbing test-prep centers.

According to a recent Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, eight in ten Americans believe that NCLB must be completely revamped in order to succeed. In addition, the federal government’s own National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that student academic performance rose more rapidly before NCLB was adopted than after it went into effect.

NCLB needs a fundamental overhaul to ensure that all students learn up to their potential. That’s why FairTest initiated an alliance of 150 national civil rights, education, religious, parent, labor, children’s, and civic organizations which have signed a statement calling for a new direction for federal education policy (see list at http://www.edaccountability.org/Joint_Statement.html). We were heartened by your statements on the campaign trail about NCLB’s shortcomings and want to support your efforts to create a new, beneficial law.

President-elect Obama, please heed your strong statements and promises concerning NCLB as you move to make positive change in the nation’s education policy. For example, you said:

  • “We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” We agree and recommend that NCLB end its overreliance on simple-minded tests, which have dumbed down both teaching and learning in the quest for higher scores, and reduce the amount of mandated testing.
  • We need to use “a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.” We agree and recommend that a reauthorized NLCB incorporate multiple measures of student learning and school quality that promote educational excellence. These can include real-world performance tasks, collections of student work that can be independently reviewed, evaluations by inspection teams, and standardized tests. To make this work, there needs to be a proper balance of local and state assessments.
  • “Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.” We agree. Researchers have concluded that NCLB will label 70 to 100 percent of the schools in the nation as 'failures.' A new law should stop this massive over-labeling and start helping schools improve. That means providing adequate funding for a broad range of educational services and developing better assessment tools. It means giving teachers themselves ongoing opportunities to learn, as all professionals must, so they can do their jobs better. It means holding schools, districts and states accountable for meeting reasonable rates of progress and taking positive steps toward improved teaching and learning.
  • “Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.” We agree. Sadly, the law was not designed to provide the resources or the help to make schools better. Instead, it requires actions that do little to strengthen teaching and learning. Some of them, such as the tutoring provision, divert resources from schools serving low-income children and give those resources to private test preparation firms, with little evidence of benefit to the tutored students. The federal government needs to fully fund the overhauled law and meet its obligations to children and communities.
Educators, parents, and students across the country trust that you will keep these important promises and that your inauguration will be a step toward bringing desperately needed change to our schools. Red state and blue state, urban and rural, rich and poor Americans all want a federal education law that actually helps children learn, instead of just testing, labeling, and punishing them. FairTest and our allies in the Forum on Educational Accountability would be honored to be among the first to support your efforts to bring such a law into being.


Jesse Mermell
Executive Director

Cc: Arne Duncan

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Washinton Post Recycles Old Op-Eds to Keep NCLB Hopes Alive

The only parts of the Washington Post Co. that are making money are the Kaplan, Inc. pieces: Kaplan Kids and Schools, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, Kaplan Higher Education and Kaplan Professional. So with Jay Mathews, the Post's test prep cheerleader reporter getting ready for his new book tour, the Post has simply chosen the cheapest route to keeping the testing mania dream alive: it is recycling old op-eds in favor of more and more testing. On Jan. 16, they put up a piece by Bill Bennett and Rod Paige from 2006 calling for national testing:

Article | 01/16/2009

Why We Need a National School Test

William J. Bennett and Rod Paige (washingtonpost.com)

...reining in Washington's impulse to micromanage our nation's schools. William J. Bennett was education secretary under...

And on the same day, they recycled this piece by Chester Finn from Feb. 2008 on the virtues of NCLB:

Article | 01/16/2009

5 Myths About the Education Law Everyone Loves to Hate

Chester E. Finn Jr. (washingtonpost.com)

...capable people who want to teach but take a less traditional route to the classroom. cefinnjr@aol.com Chester E. Finn Jr....

Now I appreciate WaPo's money-saving efforts to make money for their crumbling empire, but in the interest of full disclosure on Finn's views on NCLB, I would like to include here some chunks from a revealing piece by the same Chester Finn for National Review:
The truth is, despite all the fuss and feathers about NCLB, there’s little agreement on exactly what ails or what might cure it — which is not to say there’s a shortage of advice. A five-foot shelf of books, studies, reports, commission recommendations, etc. is rapidly accumulating. (I plead guilty to having helped contribute a few inches.) Its very amplitude attests not only to the length and complexity of the law, but also to the disputed nature of what, exactly, is awry in NCLB 1.0 and what should be the essential attributes of version 2.0. Even more important, underlying all the technical specifics are five immense dilemmas that go to the heart of the matter.

Is NCLB’s grand goal itself na├»ve and unrealistic? Politicians pledge that no child will be left behind, yet I don’t know a single educator who seriously thinks 100 percent of American children can become “proficient” (according to any reasonable definition of that term) by 2014 in reading and math. Exemptions have already been made for seriously disabled youngsters. In truth, raising American kids from their current proficiency level of some 30 percent to 70 or 80 percent would be a remarkable, nation-changing achievement, yet I can’t imagine a lawmaker conceding this. The first thing hurled back at him would be “which 20 percent of the kids don’t matter to you?”

. . . .

Can Washington successfully pull off anything as complex and ambitious as NCLB in so vast and loosely coupled a system as American K–12 education, one in which millions of “street-level bureaucrats” can ignore, veto, or undermine the plans of distant lawmakers and regulators? I’m no great fan of local control of schools but I’m even less a fan of bureaucratic over-reaching.

Do the likely benefits exceed the ever clearer costs? Boosting skill levels and closing learning gaps are praiseworthy societal goals. But even if we were surer that NCLB would attain them, plenty of people — parents, teachers, lawmakers, and interest groups — are alarmed by the price. I don’t refer primarily to dollars. (They’re in dispute, too, with most Democrats wrongly insisting that they’re insufficient.) I refer to things like a narrowing curriculum that sacrifices history, art, and literature on the altar of reading and math skills; to schools that spend ever more of the year prepping kids to pass tests; to gifted pupils being neglected so as to pull low achievers over the bar; and to the homogenizing of schools — including charter schools — that crave the freedom to be different and offer parents distinctive choices.

So long as these monster questions lack agreed-upon answers, I don’t see much hope for an NCLB consensus, and I don’t see much hope for NCLB 2.0 anytime soon.

— Chester E. Finn Jr. is senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.