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NCLB Outrages

Left Behind By Federal Plan

Thank you to William Bainbridge for observing that Margaret Spellings may be the least academically qualified Cabinet member in modern history, with a bachelor's degree in political science and no substantive education in school leadership.

And thank you to for his observations about Gerald Bracey.

Buy Bracey's book!

by William Bainbridge

There is an upside to the neoconservative implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the use of standardized tests to assess schools and students.

The law, which signals unwarranted federal intervention in the evaluation of community schools, have [sic] caused parents, home buyers and community leaders to become more sophisticated about the educational data that the federal government uses to measure student progress.

Pacing the current administration's effort to federalize elementary and secondary education was the so-called success of the "Houston Miracle."

The president's first secretary of education, Roderick Paige, politically maneuvered himself from school board member to superintendent of the massive Houston Independent School District (1994 to 2000), while President Bush was governor of Texas.

In his final year in that office, Paige reported an incredibly low student dropout rate of 1.5 percent. The rate was significantly better than any urban school system in America.

The reality however, is that during Paige's tenure, student performance data was seriously overstated because performance reports failed to take into account the thousands of students who dropped out and never returned.

The low 1.5 percent dropout rate was over 50 percent. Artificially inflated test scores reflected only the performance of the upper half of the population of children eligible to be served by the school system.

Meanwhile, Paige was continuing his bad judgment by alienating potential supporters in school systems as he publicly called teachers union representatives "terrorists."

At the start of his second term, the president replaced Paige with Margaret Spellings. She may be the least academically qualified Cabinet member in modern history, with a bachelor's degree in political science and no substantive education in school leadership.

She formerly worked as a political/education consultant to the then-Texas governor and as a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards. The first and only organization she has led as CEO is the U.S. Department of Education.

Controversy continues under Spellings' leadership. The public recently heard her call Connecticut education officials "un-American" when they suggested testing students every other year instead of every year.

Additionally, newspaper readers are frequently learning about reporting errors and shifts in methodology for reporting data required by No Child Left Behind. As these baselines for measuring student performance fluctuate, it is no wonder educators are struggling to implement the dramatic, resource-draining and extremely complex mandates.

Advocates of local control are keenly sensitive to the radical way No Child Left Behind has altered the role of state and federal governments. It is ironic that a so-called Republican administration, inheritor of the traditions of minimizing federal intervention, has imposed unprecedented federal control on accountability for local school test score results. Parents are now beginning to understand No Child Left Behind has provided no common student performance measures that cross all state lines.

In all of the confusion about educational data being reported, Gerald W. Bracey, one of the most articulate critics of both No Child Left Behind and the misuse of school data, has done much to help the public understand the facts.

Bracey holds a doctorate in psychology from Stanford, and has worked for Educational Testing Service as well as several universities.

As an independent thinker and educational researcher who specializes in educational assessment and policy analysis, Bracey created the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency. The site is a great source for understanding the hypocrisy of many of the charlatans and self-serving profiteers masquerading as education reformers. Each year, Bracey posts his eye-opening "Rotten Apples in Education Awards," on the Web site.

Bracey also pens a monthly column in the Phi Delta Kappan education journal, is a well-known writer and speaker, and has been revealing statistical manipulation for years. Bracey's recent, and perhaps best book, Reading Educational Research Between the Lines: How Not to Get Statistically Snookered, should be in the hands of all persons interested in school reform.

His clear writing and humor actually make the process of understanding educational statistics an easy read for most lay people. The book is a powerful tool for those who want to better understand the pitfalls of believing politicians who claim to be armed with "school data" in order to push partisan agendas.

These efforts to help the public understand the dangers of statistical manipulation in compiling student performance indicators are one of the few unanticipated upsides of the NCLB Act.

William Bainbridge of St. Augustine is CEO of SchoolMatch, a national educational auditing, research and data organization.

— William Bainbridge
(Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union


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