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Reanimating the Corpse of NCLB

Earlier this week, the writers of an op-ed in the Washington Post tried to convince the reader that Congress should reauthorize No Child Left Behind. But the short piece is full of crap from top to bottom, starting with the title pleading not to “undo” the nation’s education progress.

Their rationale for supporting NCLB is all about standardized testing, of course. With three specific suggestions that boil down to 1) collect data, 2) publish data, 3) use data to beat up on schools and teachers.

They finish the column the way they started, with a boat full of red herrings.

As a nation, we must ask ourselves if we are committed to the success of every child. Are we going to bow to the special interests of adults, or will we stand strong for the special interest that has no lobby – our children? We have made great progress for millions of kids since NCLB. Let’s not return to a time when these students were left in the shadows.

I have no idea what these guys mean by “great progress”. The legacy of NCLB has been a narrowing of the school curriculum as schools spent an increasing amount of time on preparing for the high stakes tests.

I certainly don’t understand their accusatory “special interest of adults”. Especially since one major result of NCLB has been the enrichment of the adult investors in the companies that market the required testing infrastructure.

Meaningless Change

Late last week, swamped by our big storms and the only slightly less windy vortex swirling around the Supreme Court, came the story that Virginia had received a waver from the adequate yearly progress (AYP) provisions of NCLB.

Our lovely parting gift for not winning Race to the Top.

Anyway, the waver means our schools “will no longer face sanctions if they fail to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014”.

As much as I would like to cheer that news, the details don’t offer much to be optimistic about.

Instead of AYP, we will now have “annual measurable objectives”, of course calculated using the same lowest common denominator standardized tests. Plus, beginning next year, our districts must “base at least 40 percent of teachers’ and principals’ evaluations on students’ academic performance” (aka those same tests).

And, as an added bonus, schools will still get an annual report card, which will now come with a “new generation of educational jargon”, the better to confuse parents and students alike.

In the Post article, our superintendent is quoted as saying “No Child Left Behind had become less and less meaningful, because the standards were unrealistic.”

Nothing’s changed. Virginia simply traded one set of unrealistic, meaningless provisions for another.

Yet Another Useless Sequel

According to the chair of the House Education and the Workforce* Committee, he and his fellow congress critters are “making progress” on revisions to No Child Left Behind.

Here’s what they have so far.

Two bills have already cleared the House committee: one would eliminate some federal programs; another would make it easier for states to create new charter schools. A third, which would give states more flexibility to spend federal funding according to their needs, should clear the committee this summer, he said.

The last two bills will be the most complicated and controversial, and will address the evaluation systems for teachers and the accountability provisions of the law. He predicted a lot of debate on those two, but said there was agreement that the law should not place such high stakes on the results of a single test.

Nice that they no longer believe in the power of a “single test”.

Unfortunately, nothing in this sequel to the original nearly decade-old train wreck of a law will address the real problem. Few people at any level of leadership are discussing the fundamental changes to our largely outmoded educational model that are desperately needed.

Which means NCLB 2 will be exactly like most sequels to second-rate horror movies: more of a waste of time and money, plus an even lamer plot than the original.


*Formerly Labor, which seems to be a dirty word for Republicans. :-)

It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

All the loudest voices in reform seem to shoe horn the word “innovation” (or some variation) into most of their pronouncements on how to improve education.

However, according to a former middle school teacher, they probably aren’t thinking of anything approaching the actual meaning of the term.

But the word, like so many others in education, has been hijacked. The “new reformers” have appropriated it as a descriptor for policy proposals and practices they advocate, and as an antonym for almost anything else. Charter schools? Innovative. Regular public schools? Definitely not. Competing for education funding? Innovative. Assuring that adequate monies go to schools that most need them? Passé. Evaluating teachers based on test scores? Innovative. Collective bargaining? Old school.

Corporate reformers have come to own the word so completely that they’re able to promote even the most wrongheaded ideas and still be portrayed by many media outlets as innovators.

The kind of “innovation” behind No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, KIPP, and other high profile education “reforms” of the past ten years has resulted in narrowing the curriculum to little more than reading and math, with even those subjects being taught to the majority of students at the most basic, rote-memorization levels.

This teacher is frustrated that, among other things, the media studies class that he use to teach and the video fair in which his student participated, are “long gone and buried”, sacrificed to the all consuming standardized testing culture.

But he also makes the excellent point that, because of that culture “teacher and student creativity will continue to be squashed at every turn.”

Ok, reformers, you want innovation? Instead of consulting people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, neither of whom go near a classroom unless the press is already there, listen to what these students have to say on the subject of improving their own education.

Behind those four minutes is a learning experience that can’t be measured on a multiple choice test.

 

Uh Oh, Someone May Not Like This!

As the years tick down to 2014, we get closer to the day when No Child Left Behind says that every student in every public school in this country will pass their annual battery of standardized tests. All at the same time. Period. No exceptions.

Which means, as the Post seems to have suddenly discovered, that a growing number of schools previously considered good are now being declared failures under the law, largely due to a few students in “sub-groups” who may not be capable of learning how to pass tests at the same time as their chronological peers.

And we have Congress critters who are equally amazed that such an incredibly misconceived plan, one with absolutely no research to support it, is not working.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have almost every school in the country failing,” said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “We’re going to have to change that.”

Unfortunately, they will work to fix the public relations aspect of NCLB and do nothing to address the fact that all-testing, all-the-time is not a system for improving student learning.

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