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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Barack and Arne Van Winkle

As if shaken from an 8 year nap, the Secretary of Education and the President have suddenly awakened to the research that has been widely disseminated since 2003 by many including Bob Linn, then President of the American Education Research Association.  In his Presidential Address entitled Accountability: Responsibility and Reasonable Expectation, Linn pointed out a year after NCLB passage that there was nothing reasonable or responsible about the accountability expectations of NCLB.  In fact, Linn provided numerous charts and graphic details showing the folly of expecting 100% proficiency by 2014, and the Address was even published in Educational Researcher in 2003. 

So if the Secretary has not been asleep at the wheel and elsewhere for the the past eight years, you might say he is just a few years behind in his professional reading.  Of course, I am being facetious, for Arne Duncan, just as Margaret Spellings before him, have been intensely aware that the goals of NCLB were and are unrealistic and immoral and that millions of children have unnecessarily suffered demoralization, failure, and loss of confidence because of a cynical and racist testing regime that was designed to guarantee large numbers of public school failures, or to blow up the public school system, beginning with the urban schools.  Never mind that the demolition would create chaos for urban school systems, bring about the loss of tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of good and moral teachers who do not have the stomach for the penal interventions in today's urban testing chain gangs, and bring to bear a corporate bean counter version of educational accountability that is antithetical to any aspiration of creating high-quality educational experiences for children.

So why, then, would the Secretary, followed up by the President, suddenly pretend in pants-on-fire speeches that there is something new in the information that 80% of American public schools will be on the AYP failure list in just 3 years? 

Sadly, it is another cynical manipulation disguised as genuine concern.  The Obama-Duncan Blueprint, which is to say the Gates-Broad Blueprint, is itching to get constructed, and there is only one thing that stands in the way:  the current NCLB.  Obama and Duncan plan to sell their Blueprint as a kinder-gentler version of NCLB that will make all those nasty failures go away, when in fact the Blueprint promises a steroidal version of what we have now, with harder, more frequent tests that culminate in national tests that promise to make the poverty gap, i. e., the achievement gap, invisible to the psychometric eye through the use of value-added, or growth, models.   

If the President or his fumbling Secretary really wanted to do something to stop the failure freight train, they could simply call a time out to this ongoing educational genocide until sane people could be brought in consider the alternatives to our present course of making our urban school children docile idiots, while the rest of the world gets their act together to offer their citizens real learning.

From the Sun-Times:
The law sets annual testing targets for students, with the goal of 100 percent of all students at grade level by 2014. As the targets increase each year — in Illinois this year, the goal is 85 percent of students at grade level — more and more schools miss the mark. Duncan predicts, perhaps somewhat aggressively, that by next year 82 percent of all schools could miss testing targets. 

With 60, 70 or 80 percent of schools failing — many otherwise considered to be quality schools, with problems with just one or two subgroups of students — how helpful is this failure label anyway?

The law doesn’t differentiate between schools that fall short because of a handful of students and those with pervasive performance problems, prescribing the same penalties regardless of the need. Penalties, by the way, such as after-school tutoring and student transfers to other schools, that have not proved effective. 

Clearly, it would make more sense for the No Child law to focus its effort on schools that are struggling the most.
The law also has encouraged states to dumb down standards and it doesn’t give schools credit for student growth, measuring only whether a student is at grade level. This is demoralizing for schools and, research shows, encourages schools to focus on students close to grade level at the expense of kids at the very bottom, as indicated in an evaluation of Chicago Public Schools test scores by Northwestern Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and University of Chicago Professor Derek Neal. 
The No Child law, which counts only reading and math scores, is also widely blamed for narrowing curriculums. Gym, art, science, social studies all have fallen by the wayside.

The Obama administration is trying to kick-start the overhaul process, laying out a blueprint for reform as a starting place. It wants a new law in place by the start of the school year. 

Alas, the odds are not good. House Republicans who are struggling to wrangle new Tea Party members say a September deadline is unworkable. Plus the insidious cloud of the 2012 presidential election is already a factor, discouraging Republicans from allowing any Obama victories.

In the meantime, America’s schoolchildren and teachers will pay the price, soldiering along under a broken system, aiming at targets that are neither meaningful nor useful.

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