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NCLB Outrages

The New Education Law Was Made in La-La Land

A Teacher speaks up.

Chicago -- Considering the impracticability of the No Child Left Behind Act, it should not be surprising that there are only 1,035 open spaces for the estimated 240,000 Chicago Public Schools students who are eligible to transfer to "choice" schools. There are, however, other problems with this federal law.

Not all reforms are successful and many states have decided the new law is so unrealistic that they have devised ways to get around it to avoid its sanctions. For example, the State Board of Education in Texas reduced the number of questions that 3rd graders had to answer correctly from the previous year, and Michigan lowered the percentage of students required to pass statewide tests so more schools could be certified as making progress. Other states have made similar adjustments to make their students and schools look better so that the law will not penalize them.

Even if schools are doing extremely well, they can be cited for poor performance if designated groups of students or minorities do not meet annual expectations two years in a row. Under this standard it is theoretically possible to have sanctions imposed on schools in our state where there are dozens of Illinois state scholars.

The idea that schools are required to have 100 percent of their students proficient in math and reading by 2014 sets the bar so high that some have accused the framers of the law of intentionally trying to undermine the public schools by guaranteeing their failure. This requirement ignores the fact that some students do not care, are continually absent and do not have the necessary support at home--if they have a home--to keep them on task. As long as you have mandatory attendance laws, you will always have disruptive and apathetic students who will bring test scores down. Indeed, there are some students who dislike school and tests so much that they will purposely perform poorly on standardized exams to make their school look bad.

The idea of students transferring to "choice" schools has opened up the real possibility that the students transferring in might cause their new schools' test scores to go down, resulting in the "choice" school being reclassified as "failing." Basing a school's success on the hope that it will be lucky enough to get the "right" students is reform of the worst sort.

Due to the pressure of high-stakes testing, teachers and principals are under the gun and it should be obvious that behind-the-scenes attempts are being made by some to make their schools look better than they really are so that they may preserve their jobs. In Houston, it was revealed that some principals were so terrified of losing their positions that they doctored the number of dropouts in their schools. This was the same district that has been praised as a model of educational reform and was once overseen by Rod Paige, whom President Bush appointed secretary of education.

The solution to end this latest educational fad is for educators and politicians to get the law changed or repealed. Failing that, states should renounce their obligations under the law and fund their educational needs entirely by themselves. This would place a huge burden on taxpayers, but there would be major benefits. School districts would not have to spend money in order to comply with federal standards, and it would empower people at the local level to do what they are supposed to be doing, which is to run their own public schools.

— Larry Vigon
The new education law was made in la-la land
Chicago Tribune
2003-08-26
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/letters/chi-0308260039aug26,1,3256091.story?coll=chi-newsopinionvoice-hed


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