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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Corporate Reformers Proclaim NCLB Success in Closing Achievement Gaps: Time to Move on to Focus on the Privileged

In a prominent display of post-partisan propaganda, Mike Petrilli and Tom Loveless have an op-ed in the Times today proclaiming NCLB success in raising the test scores of the downtrodden, while making a case for a new focus of NCLB 2.0: assistance to the privileged children in the leafy suburbs. Here is the heart of the big lie that Gates's boys are pumping today:
. . . . High-achieving students might be making incremental progress — but is this new? If they were making similar gains before 2002, then might recent progress have nothing to do with No Child Left Behind? And how did their progress compare with trends for lower-achieving students?

Thankfully, there is a more suitable tool to help answer such questions: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tracks achievement changes in 4th, 8th and 12th graders across the country. It found relatively little progress among our highest-achieving students (those in the top 10 percent) from 2000 to 2007, while the bottom 10 percent made phenomenal gains. For example, in eighth-grade math, the lowest-achieving students made 13 points of progress on the national-assessment scale from 2000 to 2007 — roughly the equivalent of a whole grade. Top students, however, gained just five points.
Loveless and Petrilli fail to note that most of the big gains of 13 points took place prior to 2004, before NCLB had a chance to work its magic. Also not mentioned is the fact that since 2000, more states have seen the black-white achievement gaps increase, rather than decrease. As the chart from the NYTimes national analysis shows below (click chart to open in separate frame), the shrinking of the black-white achievement gap has been miniscule where it has decreased at all. For 17 year-olds in reading and 9 year-olds in math, the gap has actually increased since NCLB has a chance to take effect. As Sam Dillon notes:
Although Black and Hispanic elementary, middle and high school students all scored much higher on the federal test than they did three decades ago, most of those gains were not made in recent years, but during the desegregation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s. That was well before the 2001 passage of the No Child law, the official description of which is “An Act to Close the Achievement Gap.”
It is not surprising, however, to see the reform schoolers' focus shift away from the poor. It is obvious that their kind of test-til-you-puke remedy has nothing of use to offer those who aspire to close the achievement gap. In other words, let's change the subject and get it back to helping the privileged. After all, all indications point to the imminent total containment of the poor and the black in corporate charter camps where their scores will be much less important than their attitudes and behaviors.

From the Times:

1 comment:

  1. The fact that other countries have similar achievement gaps should have been accounted for when NCLB set its unrealistic goals of perfection by 2014.

    One worry I have is the elimination of programs for advanced students for cost cutting reasons. I'm not sure how prevalent these cuts are or if that's why higher achieving students made smaller advances. Maybe high achievement can only rise so far above a certain grade level.