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

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.


  1. Anonymous12:18 PM

    Let's take a quick look at history. NCLB builds on history that began with a consensus of governors and beltway-dom at the end-of Bush-1 and the beginning of Clinton-first: The way to “reform” education was to “set high standards.” This led to enactment of the “Goals 2000: Educate America” legislation signed into law Jan. 25, 1994.

    The five goals were indeed lofty.

    Goal 1, “School Readiness,” called for universal preschool.

    Goal 2, “School Completion” called for graduation rate to increase to at least 90%.

    Goal 3, “Student Achievement and Citizenship” stated:
    “By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation's modern economy.”

    Goal 4, “Teacher Education and Professional Development” stated:
    “The Nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.”

    Goal 5, Mathematics and Science stated:
    “By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.”

    Goals 6-8 carried on in a similar vein for
    “Adult Literacy and Lifelong learning;”
    “Safe, Disciplined , and Alcohol- and Drug-Free Schools”
    “Parent Participation”

    Of course, the year 2000 came with NONE of the goals being met. There was no “reform;” NOTHING had changed.

    So what was concluded? “Goals” alone aren’t enough. You have to have “STANDARDS and ACCOUNTABILITY." And the conclusion was written into NCLB.

    The thing is, the mandated “standards” aren’t performance standards. They are “content rhetoric,” reflecting the interests of the committees that generated the documents. And the mandated standardized achievement aren’t indicators of instructional accomplishments. They are indicators only of socioeconomic status. “Proficiency” represents nothing more than arbitrarily-set cut scores on the ungrounded measures.

    Once again, NOTHING has changed. Well not quite nothing. We've spent a lot of money and with that you get "something. "The Impact Study of Reading First states it :

    "The study finds, on average, that after several years of funding the Reading First program, it has a consistent positive effect on reading instruction yet no statistically significant impact on student reading

    That's tantamount to saying a program had positive effects on medical practice, but none on patients.

    To date,the policy failure has again been ignored. Borrowing from a different context: There were no weapons of mass instruction. Acting on the basis of faulty educational intelligence, there was only botched implementation of very misguided policy.

    That's sad, but even sadder: It IS possible to teach virtually all kids to read, beginning instruction in Kindergarten and getting the job done for most kids by the end of Grade 2 for most kids and for the rest by the end of Grade 3. The UK is embarked on such an endeavor, although not without some mis-steps in execution.

    There is no question that we CAN change. The only question is whether we will.

  2. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Supporters of NCLB have boiught into the cynical myth that American Public Schools are "failing".

    Most are not.

    America fails its poor.
    America neglects its middle-class.
    America nurtures only its investor class and already-wealthy.

    That's the REAL story behind NCLB.

    NCLB is to American Education what the Iraq invasion and occupation is to that unfortunate, victimized country.

    There is no middle ground on NCLB.

    Folks who think they can see one, are trying to be so reasonable and "fair", that they have emersed themselves in an extreme denial that may violate even their own personal values.

    In this way, the equivocators about NCLB have just become one with the enemy--The privatizers who want to bring down Public Schools.

    We don't negotiate with criminals, outlaws and fools, and we should never compromise with NCLB-supporters.

    They are lost.