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NCLB Outrages

No Corporation Left Behind

Here's the table of contents and one essay from the upcoming Special Issue of Equity and Excellence in Education, edited by Gerald W. Bracey.

The Special Issues are $25 each, from Routledge .


Editor's Introduction.

“No Poor Child Left Un-recruited: How NCLB Codifies and Perpetuates Urban School Militarism,” Rosa Furumoto, Sonoma State University.

“The Soft Bigotry of Low Expenditures,” Kevin Welner, University of Colorado and Don Weitzman, University of California at Berkeley.

“No Child Left Behind and the Deliberate Diminishment of Race,” Eric Freeman, Georgia State University.

“One Hundred Percent Proficiency: A Mission Impossible,” Eric Haas et alia, University of Connecticut.

“Can Irrational Become Unconstitutional: NCLB’s 100% Presuppositions,” Kevin Welner, University of Colorado.

“Placism in NCLB—How Rural Children Are Left Behind,” Lorna Jimerson, Rural School and Community Trust.

“When Opting Out is Not a Choice,” Roslyn Mickelson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“A Disability Studies Perspective on the Bush Education Agenda,” Lynne Bejoian and Kim Reid, Columbia University.

“Tension Between the ‘Science’ of Reading and a ‘Love of Learning,’” Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin and Haley Woodside-Jiron, University of Vermont.



After securing re-election, George W. Bush said he had acquired a lot of political capital and he intended to spend it. And he did. On Iraq and Social Security reform. He better hope he’s got some left because his flagship domestic program to date, No Child Left Behind, looks like it’s turning into a capital drain as well. Initially supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, it now appears that people didn’t realize many of the 1,100-page law’s implications and consequences (which could make the law unconstitutional according to an April, 2005 Phi Delta Kappan article by Ann McColl). States and school districts are suing. Teachers and students alike are champing at the onerous testing requirements. There is scant evidence that the law increases achievement, but some people are reaping huge profits from it and some others wonder if that was the way it was planned in the first place.

To understand what is happening we need first to know a few things about the law’s provisions. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) provides states and school districts close to $13 billion dollars annually. The program is about to enter its fourth year. Most of the money is contained in a part of the law known as Title I. Schools are awarded Title I funds based on the proportion of low-income students they contain.

Some NCLB money flows into states that then distribute it to localities and some goes straight to school districts. To get the money, each state established a baseline of achievement and a plan for increasing achievement until, by the school year 2013-2014, 100 percent of students are proficient in reading and math. Each state uniquely defines “proficient.”

Each year, enroute to 100 percent proficiency by 2014, both districts and individual schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP is arbitrary and so irrational some have wondered if it might not be unconstitutional. California projects that by 2014, 99 percent of its schools will carry the label “failing.” Minnesota, one of the highest scoring states in the nation projects 80 percent failures. For schools that don’t make AYP, the law unleashes increasingly draconian sanctions. Companies grow richer as schools suffer.

Schools must report AYP or lack thereof by various subgroups—ethnicity, gender, etc. Most schools have 37 subgroups. If any one subgroup fails, the entire school fails. Many people think this is pretty irrational, too. It is.

After one year of not making AYP, the school is put on a “watch list” and has to develop a plan to improve. After two years failure to make AYP, the school must offer all children the opportunity to attend a “successful” school in the same district.

To date, the choice option has been a farce. In rural districts, there might be no other school, or to get to one might require hours long rides each way or, as in some places in Alaska and Hawaii, a plane ride. Big cities have hundreds of thousands of students eligible to transfer, but usually only space for a few hundred. As deputy secretary of education, Eugene Hickok played disciplinarian, demanding that receiving schools “build capacity”—add teachers, new classrooms, mobile units, etc.

Hickok never enforced his decrees and, in fact, New York City shoved them in his face. In 2003-2004, some 8,000 City students changed schools. It is not recorded how many of these students were behavior problems that crafty—or maybe desperate--principals unloaded on their unsuspecting brethren, but principals in the receiving schools raised such a stink that in 2004-2005 the city reduced the allowable number of transfers to 1,000. This just in: A July 2005 study in Broward County, Florida, found that students who transferred didn’t get any academic boost, but were more likely than a control group of peers who did not transfer to be sent to the principal’s office or be sent home.

Private corporations cash in when a school fails to make AYP for three years in a row. Then the school must offer all low-income children Supplemental Educational Services (SES) outside of normal school hours. If the school is in a successful district, then district teachers can provide the tutoring or remediation, but if the district is a failing district, it must turn to outside help. Virtually all of the outside help comes from private companies that charge up to $2000 per student. The potential take from SES is more than $2 billion per year.

The U. S. Department of Education uses NCLB to hold public schools’ feet to the fire. For SES providers, it provides a glass of Cognac and an easy chair to sit by the fire. All teachers in public schools must be “highly qualified” as defined by the NCLB law. Those who provide SES need not have any qualifications unless a particular state requires them.

NCLB requires public schools to evaluate curriculum materials using criteria derived from “scientifically based research.” But it sees such criteria as bureaucratic impediments to SES. While an officer of the U. S. Department of Education, Michael Petrilli said, “We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be as vibrant as possible.” No Child Left Behind is more about the care and feeding of markets than the education of children.

Even if the Department had high standards for both approving SES providers and public school curricula, we would know little about providers’ ability to improve achievement because there is no oversight. States are supposed to monitor the providers. Illinois has one staff person to handle 75 approved providers. The Michigan Department of Education employs a total of 200 people and has 98 approved providers. Of the monitoring of SES providers, Jack Jennings, Executive Director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy said, “[The states] better put something in place pretty fast. Millions of dollars are being spent and nobody knows what’s happening.” No doubt that’s why we’ve been seeing headlines like “Test-Prep Firms Bribing Students Just to Show Up,” “A Lucrative Brand of Tutoring Goes Unchecked,” and “SES: Two Billion Reasons to Worry.”

The school-year 2005-2006 will begin NCLB’s 4th year. Thus, we haven’t seen the impact of the sanctions that hit schools after four or five years of not making AYP, but the potential dollars for for-profits are huge. The sanctions allow private companies to take over entire schools.

Aside from sanctions attached to AYP provisions, money flows into private coffers from testing and curriculum requirements. Prior to NCLB, very few states operated testing programs large enough to satisfy the law’s provisions. The law requires states to test all students in grades three through 8 and in one grade in high school each year in reading and math. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that many states would have to add ten or more tests to comply with the law. Science testing will be added in 2007, President Bush has proposed expanding high school testing and Secretary of Education Spellings has proposed expanding the testing to other subjects. Little wonder, then, that Sharon Robinson, then a vice president at Educational Testing Service, reportedly called NCLB the “Test Publisher’s Full Employment Act.”

The GAO estimated that meeting NCLB’s testing requirements would cost the states between $1.9 billion and $5.3 billion over a six year period, depending on the kind of test used. And this was just to meet the requirement in schools receiving Title I funds. Legally, the 46 percent of schools not receiving Title I funds do not have to follow the law’s requirements, but most districts will test all schools, not just those under the federal gun. The GAO study did not include “test prep” costs.

The GAO also underestimated the costs because of other developments occurring since its study. In May 2005, two of the dominant forces in testing, Harcourt Assessment and McGraw-Hill rolled out new on-line testing programs to conduct so-called “formative assessment.” These are weekly mini-tests that teachers can use to see if the kids are progressing towards the Big Test that determines their school’s fate under NCLB. None of this would have figured in the GAO analysis.

And then there’s the flow of money for curricular materials, a generous dollop of which goes to McGraw-Hill, a dominant publisher of textbooks as well as tests. The warm relationship between the McGraws and the Bushes has been documented many times. The families have vacationed together since the 1920’s. Harold McGraw, Jr. sits on the Board of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The first Bush Administration graced Mr. McGraw with a literacy award. Most of the education reform contracts let when George W. Bush was governor of Texas went to McGraw-Hill. Harold McGraw III was on the George W. Bush transition team and visited Bush in the White House the first day Bush occupied it. A New York Times profile of McGraw III said that McGraw-Hill lobbied for NCLB. What a surprise.

NCLB contains a $1 billion dollar a year program known as Reading First. States apply for this money then distribute it to districts which must specify what curricular materials they will use. The criteria for what materials are allowable under Reading First are very tight and supposedly derived from “scientifically based research.” Many of the experts who established these criteria were used first as consultants by George W. Bush in his education reforms in Texas. Many are also McGraw-Hill authors.

One non-McGraw-Hill program that is approved for use in Reading First is Voyager Expanded Learning. A Bush “Pioneer,” Randy Best started Voyager. The honorific, “Pioneer,” is awarded to those who raised more than $100,000 in Bush’ presidential campaign. Edward Kame’enui and Deborah Simmons at the University of Oregon, who wrote “A Consumer’s Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program,” an almost universally used document in approving Reading First grants, also wrote Voyager curriculum materials.

A Voyager vice-president, Jim Nelson, was earlier appointed by Bush to head the Texas Education Agency. Nelson left Voyager to become superintendent of the Richardson School District, but Nelson’s wife Karen remains as a Voyager vice president and Richardson spent millions on Voyager materials. Another former Richardson superintendent, Vernon Johnson, is currently Voyager’s CEO. Best recently sold Voyager to ProQuest for $380,000,000 and will form a corporation for teacher preparation with Reid Lyon formerly of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and customarily referred to in the media as “Bush’s Reading Czar.”

Given all these cozy connections, it is not surprising that one often hears the phrase “interlocking directorate.” In fact, reading researcher Elaine Garan of California State University at Fresno wrote that when she attempted “to trace the connections, I tried color-coding to make the links easier to follow. When I got to Edward Kame’enui, I ran out of colors. He has financial links at so many levels I couldn’t list them all.”
At a Washington forum on Supplemental Services, Susan Wright of Clark County, Nevada schools (Las Vegas), said, “The bottom line that is driving private tutorial services seems to be money and profit.” That can be said of other aspects of NCLB as well. That might be OK in some places, but for a program whose stated goal was the elimination of the minority-white achievement gap, that so much money is landing in the laps of rich, mostly white men seems perverse

— Gerald W. Bracey
Equity and Excellence in Education


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