Washington Calls Collect
Education reform, says University of Texas testing guru Uri Treisman, is "a blunt instrument wielded at great distance from students."
The distance grew in 2002 with the No Child Left Behind Act, which, congealing in snowball compactness around many state reforms, increasingly is tying school districts' hands.
This happens as policymakers say they're for "more local control." That's a hoot.
Standardized testing, which has become the hula hoop of its age, is only one aspect of the new federal control over our schools. It also includes one-size-fits-all mandates on teacher qualifications, school discipline, dropouts and more.
And though Congress patted itself on the back and newspapers said it was doing the right thing because schools supposedly weren't, the implementation is causing consternation and even a backlash in some states.
"It was designed by folks who seem not to have been around schools much and who lack the practical understanding of how you make things happen where the rubber meets the road," said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.
Ah, what does that guy know about running schools? George W. Bush knows how to run schools. He ran a baseball team, for goodness sakes.
Good Teachers Left Behind
While the idea looks good on paper, one of the most problematic aspects of NCLB (weren't conservatives about creating fewer federal acronyms?) is a mandate that by the end of the 2005-2006 school year 100 percent of teachers and classroom aides will be classified as "highly qualified."
That's a problem amid a massive teacher shortage (slightly eased at the moment because there are so few good-paying jobs elsewhere). The dearth has caused school districts to scramble, often using alternative certification. Additionally, schools, particularly rural ones, employ good teachers in varied venues and disciplines.
Under NCLB, vast numbers of high-quality, certified secondary teachers who did not major in the disciplines they perfected in the trenches will have to stop what they are doing, go to college and get certified in whatever it is. So goes, along with standardizing education, the quest to standardize what teaching excellence is. We do it with weights and measures, tubs and toilets.
However, with the pay that teachers receive, and with many years in the classroom satisfactory to their employers, having the federal government suddenly override local districts and order teachers to college is both monstrous and potentially destructive. Some of these teachers will walk. Districts are going to lose good people if a sufficient system of waivers isn't in place that honors alternative certification.
The same applies to paraprofessionals — aides and educational support staff — who by the end of 2005-2006 must have an associate's degree. These are people who are being paid veritable menial wages to serve crucial functions, often of many years' duration. We're going to tell them to drop everything and go to college? For that paycheck?
Why, sure. Why not? It will cost them a lot, but it won't cost Washington a dime.
That's another problem. Money. Though Washington launched No Child Left with an unprecedented infusion of funds to help districts with new mandates, budget reality has set in with a federal deficit now at record levels. Increasingly, these districts will be at their own devices in trying to do what Washington has now ordered.
At least one state, Maine, is debating whether to resist and free itself of the yolk unless it gets additional federal dollars. Afraid of higher standards? No. Maine says NCLB standards are lower than its own and therefore irrelevant. How dare Maine want standards higher than Washington dictates? Send in the 3rd Infantry Division. Oops, it's occupied with an overseas call.
John Young, opinon page editor
Washington Calls Collect
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES