This space explores issues in public education policy, and it advocates for a commitment to and a re-examination of the democratic purposes of schools. If there is some urgency in the message, it is due to the current reform efforts that are based on a radical re-invention of education, now spearheaded by a psychometric blitzkrieg of "metastasizing testing" aimed at dismantling a public education system that took almost 200 years to build. JH August, 2005
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Nine Years Before Ten Years After
I have been deliberately ignoring the 10th painful anniversary of NCLB-S. I appreciate the grisly work of Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill in unearthing all those dead bodies and in reminding us that those who don't recall the past. . . .
THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT, A PLAN FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION:
JUST SAY NO
Gerald W. Bracey
W. Bracey is an Associate of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation
and an Associate Professor at George Mason University.His most recent books are The
War on America's Public Schools (Allyn & Bacon, 2002) and Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's
Guide to Standardized Testing (Revised edition, Phi Delta Kappa
International, 2002).The opinions
are his own.
The No Child Left Behind
Act is a trap.It is the
grand scheme of the school privatizers.No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sets up public schools for the
final knock down.
Paranoia?Hardly.Consider that the
Bush administration is de-regulating every pollution producing industry
in sight while cutting Superfund cleanup money.It has rolled back regulations on power plants and snowmobiles
and wants to take protection away from 20,000,000 acres of wetlands
(20% of the total).President
Bush's response to global warming: “Deal with it!” by which he means,
adjust to it while we make the world safe for SUVs.The president wants to outsource hundreds of thousands of
government jobs to private corporations.He wants, in other words, to get the government
out of government.
Would an administration
with such an anti-regulatory, pro-private sector policy perspective
turn around and impose harsh, straitjacket requirements on schools,
demands that would bankrupt any business?Of course not.Unless it had an ulterior purpose.
Recall that the president's
original 2001 proposal provided vouchers to let children attend
private schools at taxpayer expense.Congress, chastised by the massive defeats vouchers suffered
in referenda in California and Michigan in the 2000 election (voucher
proponents outspent opponents 2-1, but the measures went down in
flames, 70-30, in both states), stripped the voucher provisions
from the bill.They didn't
strip them from Karl Rove's mind.After the 2002 elections, the Wall
Street Journal declared "GOP's Election Gains Give School
Vouchers a Second Wind."They'll be back.In fact, they already are. President Bush has put $75 million for
vouchers for the District of Columbia in his 2004 budget proposal
and some congressmen want to extend their use to other cities as
There are any number of
impossible-to-meet provisions in the NCLB, but let's take just two
of the most prominent: those for testing and for teacher qualifications.The federal government cannot force NCLB on
states, but any state that wants NCLB money must agree to test all
children in grades three through eight every year in reading and
math and, two years later, science as well.The tests must be based on "challenging" standards
and schools must show "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP)
until, after 12 years, all of the schools' students attain the "proficient"
level.The school must demonstrate
AYP overall and separately for all major ethnic and socio-economic
groups, special education students and English Language Learners.And pigs will fly.
The massive testing requirements
alone will force many states to spend massive amounts of money to
develop, administer, analyze and report the test results and other
data needed for mandatory "report cards" schools must
develop and send to parents.Many
states will have to abandon their own programs labored over for
the last decade--or two.Their costs may well exceed what NCLB provides.An analysis by Rutland, Vermont School Superintendent, William
Mathis, found that the state will receive $52 million dollars from
NCLB, but that it will cost the Green Mountain State $158 million
to implement the law's provisions.Mathis estimates that national cost to states
between $84 billion and $148 billion.
The word "proficient"
is a trap, too.According
to the law, each state decides how to define it, but the word already
has great currency in education circles as part of the lingo surrounding
the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).It is one of the NAEP achievement levels, the others being
"below basic," "basic" and "advanced."Not many children attain the proficient level on NAEP tests.
Although in common parlance,
the NAEP achievement levels have been rejected by everyone who has
ever studied them: UCLA's Center for Research on Evaluation, Student
Standards and Testing (CRESST),
the General Accounting Office
and the National Academy of Sciences,
as well as by individual psychometricians such as Lyle Jones of
the University of North Carolina.The studies agree that the methods used are
flawed and, more importantly, the results don't accord with any
For instance, Jones pointed
out that American fourth-graders were well above average on the
mathematics tests of the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS), yet only 18% reached the proficient level and a meager
two percent scored at the advanced level in the 1996 NAEP mathematics.Similar low percentages are seen in the 1996 NAEP Science
assessment and TIMSS Science where American fourth-graders were
third in the world among 26 nations.Finally, on the 2000 NAEP reading assessment, only 32% of
fourth-graders attained proficient or better, but American 9-year-olds
were second in the world among 27 countries in the international
reading study, How in the
World Do Students Read?It makes no sense that American kids do
so poorly on domestic measures such as NAEP but stack up well against
the rest of the industrialized world.
The NAEP achievement levels
were developed at a time when the National Assessment Governing
Board was controlled by Chester E. Finn, Jr., and other ideologues
on the Right.Their purpose was to sustain the sense of crisis
created by 1983’s golden treasury of selected, spun and distorted
statistics, “A Nation At Risk.”NABG hired three of the most respected evaluators in the
country to evaluate the NAEP standards and standard setting process.When the evaluators reported that the process didn’t work,
NAGB summarily fired them.Or
tried to.The contract forbade it.
When NAEP was first introduced,
the enabling law forbade it to report at the state level.Congress revised the law in 1988 to make state reporting possible
and currently about 40 states volunteer (and pay) to receive state-level
state-level NAEP goes from voluntary to mandatory.All states must participate in the biennial NAEP reading
and math assessments to "confirm" their own results.Studies have already shown that a much smaller proportion of students
reaches proficient on NAEP than on the various state tests.Because the NAEP levels are exceedingly high,
Robert Linn, co-director of CRESST observed that even getting all
children to even the "basic" level on NAEP would constitute
a mighty challenge.
The NCLB bill contains
incentives for states to start at a low level (to have any prayer
of achieving AYP).This is why, on a preliminary analysis of "failing
schools" in various states, Michigan, with high standards had
1513 failing schools, and Arkansas, with low standards, had none.Yet on the fourth grade NAEP reading assessment
in 2000, Michigan had 28 percent of its students at or above proficient
while Arkansas had only 23.Differences
like this will turn into discrepancies between what the state assessments
say and what NAEP says about how many students in a state are or
are not proficient.Critics
and profit seekers will take the discrepancy between the state results
and the NAEP results as evidence that the schools are still
failing and that the states and districts are lying to their citizens
about school quality.
Districts and schools
that fail to make AYP are subject to increasingly severe--and unworkable--sanctions.Their staffs can be fired, their kids sent
to another district, the district abolished.
Using the original formulation,
the White House's own calculations revealed that had NCLB been in
place for a few years, about 90% of the schools in North Carolina
and Texas would have been labeled "failing schools."North Carolina and Texas?These are states that have been singled out in recent years
for their progress on a variety of tests.If they can't meet the standards, what hope is there for
the rest?None--that's the purpose of the law.The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that 90%
of all schools would fail while simulations by the Council of Chief
State School Officers put the failure rate at only 88%.As a consequence, some wags are beginning to
refer to the law as LNSS: Let No School Succeed.
In a move clearly aimed
at greasing the skids for vouchers, the U. S. Department of Education
put out regulations that make no sense at all.As a first step to quashing failing schools, children in
those schools must be offered the option of going to a more successful
one, successful defined solely in terms of test scores.It does not matter if the "successful" schools
are already stuffed to the gills.They must hire more teachers (where they will
find them is something of a mystery), bring in trailers or build
more classrooms (where they will get the money is something of a
mystery).They must, in the words of Under Secretary
Eugene Hickok, build capacity.Only if the arriving students would so crowd the schools
as to violate fire or other safety and health codes, can they be
denied access.Thus, in theory, we could face a situation in which virtually all
students attend schools currently enrolling only 10% of students.In some places, one must truly wonder where
kids will go.Los Angeles
has enough classroom space for 145,000 high schoolers.The district currently has 165,000 with a projected 200,000
There are more than a
few technical problems with the concept of AYP.Researchers have found that test scores at the school level
are quite volatile from year to year.According to RAND researcher David Grissmer,
the tests would not identify the good and the bad schools, but only
the lucky and unlucky ones.Not only are the test scores volatile, most
of the volatility is associated with factors that have nothing to
do with what goes on in the classroom.
No one has given any consideration
to student mobility.Nationally,
20% of American students change schools each year.In urban areas the figure is more like 50% and in some instances,
the students in a building at the end of the year are not those
who started there in the fall.How, then, can the school be considered failing or succeeding?
Similarly, nothing in
the law takes into account the phenomenon of summer loss.This is critical.Disadvantaged
students show substantial summer loss while middle class and affluent
students hold their own in mathematics and actually gain over the
summer months in reading.One
study found that poor and middle class students gained the same
amount during the school year, but, because of summer losses, the
poor students fell farther and farther behind their middle class
peers as they moved from first to fifth grade.Thus schools
that actually make adequate yearly progress during the school
year will get labeled as failures because of what happens during
the summer months.
Moreover, no one has given
any attention to what happens when large numbers of children leave
"failing" schools for more successful ones (the U. S.
Department of Education has given large grants for publicity campaigns
to insure that parents are aware of this option).Suppose the arriving students raise the average class size
from 22 to 29 students.This alone could easily transform a successful
school into a failing one.
And what kinds of test
scores will the arriving students bring?The legislation demands that schools give priority to the
neediest students--those with the lowest test scores.The arrival of large numbers of low-scoring students might
well convert a successful school into a failing one.At the same time, since the departing students take their
low scores with them, the sending school's test scores will automatically
rise.But if the sending school gets out of the failing
category, it doesn't get the kids back.It only gets to stop paying for their transportation, thereby turning
NCLB into an unfunded mandate on parents.
The above problems present
sufficient difficulties for schools, but their lives become more
arduous because they must to disaggregate the data below the school
level.We have mentioned already that school-level
test scores show volatility from year to year.Imagine what kind of instability we'll see when we have report
by smaller units: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans,
special education students, kids on free-and-reduced price lunches,
and English Language Learners.And if one group doesn't show AYP, the school takes the hit.
When the pre-ordained
high failure rate occurs, vouchers and privatization will be touted
as the only possible cures.Subsequent
to the voucher defeats in Michigan and California, voucher advocates
have stopped touting vouchers as a cure-all for the whole nation
on market grounds and have started pushing them for poor people
on civil rights grounds.They contend that middle class people aren't interested in vouchers
because they think their public schools are good (they're right).But with the high failure rates guaranteed
by NCLB, even those good schools will fail--51% of the schools North
Carolina recognized for "exemplary growth"
failed under NCLB.Conservative school critic, Denis Doyle wrote
that the NCLB means that the nation is about to be "inundated
in a sea of bad news" and that the schools are going to get
The privatizers will shout
"The school system has proven it is an ossified government
monopoly that can't reform itself (Chester Finn shouted precisely
this in 1998 in the Wall Street Journal).
You've had your chance.We
warned you.We gave you
'Nation At Risk' over twenty years ago.Nothing has changed.It's
time to apply American business expertise to education."Right, as in Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, Imclone, WorldCom,
the 993 companies that have "adjusted" their accounting
reports in the last five years, and the myriad dot.coms that failed
because their officers didn't have a clue about how to run a business
(How come no one ever criticizes business schools?).
If not yet in bankruptcy
court, Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools Inc, will be waiting
(Edison stock has been as high as $39 a share, but in February,
2003 it was hovering around $1.35; in ten years, the company has
failed to show a profit in even one quarter).Recall that Whittle announced his plan for a national system
of private schools in 1991 when President George Herbert Walker
Bush was riding high after the Gulf War.So certain was a Bush re-election—coronation,
actually—that the most likely Democratic candidates declined to
run and left the certain defeat to the Governor of Arkansas.
Recall, too, that Whittle
had paid Bush’s secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, $125,000
as a consultant while Alexander was Governor of Tennessee (Whittle
Communications was headquartered in Knoxville).Alexander also bought $10,000 worth of Whittle Communications
stock.He transferred the
stock to his wife when he became president of the University of
Tennessee (for some reason, his wife also wrote a check to Whittle
for the shares.Apparently,
Whittle never cashed either one of them, but he later bought the
stock back for $330,000
Whittle's original grandiose
plan prophesied 200 private schools by 1996 and 1000 by 2000 (he
currently manages, not owns, about 130 public schools).He said it would require about $1 billion to create a prototype
of his scheme and another $2 to ramp it up to a national scale.Where on earth would he get that kind of money?Whittlesaid from bankers and investors.Three billion from investors who had already lost about $400
million on his earlier adventure, Channel One?
Whittle actually needed
Bush and Alexander to push their school voucher plan through Congress.Then children could use those vouchers to attend
When the unthinkable happened
and Bush lost, Whittle had to fall back on managing a few public
schools.Whittle no doubt already has an advertising
campaign ready for when the failing grades start arriving.He will then portray the Edison "model"
as the only means of consistently achieving AYP, even though evaluations
have found Edison achievement results mixed at best and a dozen
schools that Edison lists as showing "positive" trends
have terminated their contracts.
But Edison has
friends in high places.Lamar
Alexander is now a Senator who managed, despite his freshman status,
to wrangle a seat on the education committee.Another fan, Eugene Hickok, is Deputy Secretary of Education
(Hickok was responsible for persuading then-Pennsylvania governor,
Tom Ridge, to impose Edison on Philadelphia schools).And a third Whittle pal and voucher advocate, Lisa Keegan,
heads the Education Leaders Council (in which Hickok was very active
before taking his current appointment), which has received millions
in no-bid contracts from Secretary of Education Rod Paige.Whittle will be ready to roll if the moment comes.
As will be former secretary
of education, William J. Bennett.Bennett now heads K12, Inc.After decades of warning people that computers offer no educational
advantages, Bennett converted and is now CEO of this company that
produces on-line curriculum materials.The "supplementary services" provisions
of NCLB offer Whittle, Bennett and other private companies opportunities
after the public schools "fail."
The testing requirements
alone are enough to consign the schools to failure.The requirements for "highly qualified" teachers
simply hit the schools while they're down.All current teachers in schools receiving NCLB funds must
be "highly qualified" by 2005-2006, as must anyone who
was hired after the 2002-2003 school year began.By "highly qualified," NCLB means those who hold
at least a bachelor's degree, have full state certification (or
have passed the state's licensing exam), and who have not had any
certification requirements waived on "an emergency, provisional,
or temporary basis."
There are nationwide shortages
of people with such qualifications in mathematics, science and special
education--and the cities.Chicago
says 25% of the teachers in low-performing schools don't meet the
while Baltimore put the figure at 31%.A 2003 survey commissioned by Education Week shows that 22% of all high
school students take a course from a teacher without even a minor
in the subject.For high-poverty
high schools, the figure is 32% and for high-poverty middle schools
it is 44%.These precise figures are recent but the teacher
qualification problem has been known for some time.We can only assume that the framers of the
legislation knew in advance that states could not meet the requirements.They just didn't care.
Even classroom paraprofessionals
must have completed two years of college and have an associate's
degree or have passed a state test on content and teaching skills.
New hires must meet this requirement as of January 8, 2003; existing
paraprofessionals have four years to ratchet up their credentials.
low-salaried staff who often come from lower-income neighborhoods.Many urban education experts contend that they are the best possible
candidates to become accredited teachers--they are familiar with
the situation and know what they're getting into and have shown
that they can deal with it.But
there is no federal money to assist them to their degrees and if
they should attain one, they will no doubt find more attractive
salaries outside of the school.And better working conditions--NCLB greatly restricts what services
they can provide to children.They
can't teach, for instance unless, "directly supervised"
by a teacher.
Harry Reid, the Democratic
whip in the Senate is said to have gathered some education lobbyists
together and asked, "How on earth could you have let this happen?"
("on earth" was not actually the phrase he used).How, indeed?Well, money
can beattractive and addictive.How else to explain Democrat George Miller
and Ted Kennedy's willingness to endorse President Bush's proposal?Kennedy and Miller now complain that Bush didn't
deliver the promised dollars--their versions contained $10 billion
more than the $1.4 billion of new money actually appropriated.Some states are already thinking that their
costs--in dollars, not even counting hassle--might well be more
than they get from NCLB.David
Shreve of the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates
that the cost of program to states could run as high as $35 billion.
Thomas Gaffey, a state
legislator in Connecticut says, "I'm sitting here shaking my
head.I knew this was loaded with problems, but what
the heck was going through their minds?"What indeed?States should look at the lucre-drug that Bush and the NCLB are
offering them and just say “No!”
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