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NCLB Outrages

To hear why No Child fails, just listen to its supporters

Richard Rothstein discusses the orgy of hypocrisy going on across the country.

by Diane Carman

It wasn’t meant to be this way. Lawrence Hernandez was supposed to be the counterpoint to Richard Rothstein, who calls No Child Left Behind and its philosophical underpinnings “fraudulent.”

Instead, at a forum sponsored this week by the Bell Policy Center, Hernandez proved Rothstein’s point again and again.

Rothstein insists that the data are in and the evidence is clear: Great schools alone cannot reduce the achievement gap. Expecting that is irresponsible.

The education researcher, author and visiting professor at Columbia University Teachers College points to the vast disparities in child-rearing practices, health care, nutrition, early childhood educational opportunities and access to decent housing as the real factors affecting student achievement.

Hernandez calls those “excuses.”

The founder and principal of Cesar Chavez Academy charter school in Pueblo said he believes that schools can have a tremendous impact on a child’s life. In fact, he said, “the public school system is the only system that can make a difference in a child’s life.”

Just look at Cesar Chavez, he said. It’s 80 percent Latino, with 65 percent of the students qualifying for free or

reduced-priced lunches, 13 percent learning English as a second language and 10 percent receiving special education services. Still, despite those challenges, third-graders achieved 100 percent proficiency on state standardized reading tests in 2004.

While Hernandez attributes that success to high expectations, academic rigor, talented teachers and strong leadership, other factors also contributed to the students’ exceptional performance.

“The parents have to buy into what we’re doing,” he said, and that starts when they demonstrate their commitment to education by enrolling their children in the charter school.

The school also operates a preschool program, provides on-site health clinics with free immunizations and flu shots for children, and brings in physicians to give free physical examinations to children interested in joining athletic teams.

No student transportation is provided, so public and private money can be used to reduce class sizes, enhance teachers’ salaries and provide tutors for children who fall behind. But inevitably, this creates a barrier for children whose parents are not willing or able to deliver them to school every day.

In other words, not just any kid can go to Cesar Chavez.

Rothstein said there are plenty of examples across the country where the children of disadvantaged-but-highly- motivated parents are concentrated in intense, rigorous schools and do better than the mountains of statistics predict.

“That doesn’t mean the average is not meaningful,” he said.

In Colorado, the averages show that since the state began mandatory testing to measure achievement, the gap between rich and poor students has widened. With rare exceptions, despite intense pressure and threats to dismantle low-performing schools, children from poor families still are not achieving proficiency at rates better than when the frenzy over educational accountability began.

This is the case across the country, Rothstein said. We’re engaging in a “national orgy of hypocrisy.”

“We say we want to close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, and we’re simultaneously withdrawing support from the social and economic institutions that could enhance equality.

“Holding out the goal of closing the achievement gap through school reform alone is dangerous,” Rothstein said. “Holding schools responsible for a goal they can’t meet will doom public education.”

For those who reject the Jeffersonian ideal of free public education for all, the destruction of the public school system is something to celebrate cynically along with the growing achievement gap.

For everybody else, Rothstein’s work offers an ominous warning: If the orgy of hypocrisy continues, the global economy will leave us behind - all of us.

Diane Carman’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at 303-820-1489 or dcarman@denverpost.com.

— Diane Carman
Denver Post


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