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NCLB Outrages

Those School Tests

Noting that many of our children lack adquate food, health care, and housing is described as leftwing whining by a NAEP employee. Indeed. I wonder how she'd describe the Children's Defense Fund, who document the poverty of our children. And how about the National Council of Churches, who have come out strongly against NCLB. Are they leftwing whiners?

Message to Joel Packer and the rest of the NAE fellow travelers: The Educator Roundtable has a very positive suggestion to replace NCLB. Educators should start acting like professionals and take back their profession. This means throwing out the corporate scripts. This means to stop letting the corporate politicos and their union allies keeping teachers intellectually barefoot and professionally bankrupt.


It’s perhaps filled with too much left-wing simplistic jingoism – but at the same time, there’s a measure of truth in what a member of a group that has launched an effort to get rid of the federal education law No Child Left Behind (NCLB), says:

“When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Health Care and No Child Left Homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind,” says Susan Ohanian.

On Nov. 21 last year, Ohanian’s group, the Educator Roundtable, launched an online petition drive to repeal the 2002 reauthorization of NCLB. In less than 30 days, more than 20,000 signatures had been collected, all via the Internet and without media support.

And then the National Education Association (NEA) came down against the Educator Roundtable saying:

“While the initiators of the petition are well-meaning and share many of the same concerns we have with NCLB, the petition does not represent our views,” says Joel Packer, director of NEA Education Policy and Practice. “It calls for the dismantling of NCLB and does not propose any positive changes or alternatives.”

Packer picks up agreement from Dr. Joan Shepard, a Pennsylvania educator for 34 years, and now employed by NAEP, a national testing organization that, and since 1969, has tested 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade students all over the nation every other year. Statewide, school districts are chosen randomly. The results of these assessments are reported in The Nation's Report Card, and individual schools are not named or compared to other schools.

“I agree with the NEA statement,” Shepard told this newspaper. “Beyond that, it sounds like a lot of left-wing whining.”

"Unfortunately, the national leadership of the NEA has come out against our efforts to repeal this disastrous legislation,” countered Dr. Philip Kovacs, Director of the Educator Roundtable.

Kovacs in turn described the NCLB as legislation that:

• “Diminishes the professionalism of teachers

• “Cedes local control of classrooms to federal and corporate manipulation.

• “Subjects our children to an endless regimen of high-stakes tests that provide little, if any, benefit to their lives.”

Kovacs continues:

“Aside from being an ineffective way to educate children, the new educational culture of NCLB is patently destructive. Our children, in lieu of being prepared for contributive citizenship in our democracy, or even being prepared for the world of work, are being reduced to nothing more than passers of minimum competency tests.”

As well, Kovacs says, teachers are “being judged only on whether you can bring your lowest performing students to meet the lowest of expectations on simplistic reading and mathematics tests, at the expense of all else -- including your best and brightest.”

Dr. Shepard is having none of this.

The Educator Roundtable is focusing on only “the parts that make the NCLB program seem like an abscess that school districts have to deal with, instead of what the test really is -- school district accountability, help with poor performing schools, and parental choice among a few.”

Howard Maffucci, Superintendent of Schools for the East Rochester, NY School District, also has strong words of condemnation for NCLB: He said about a month ago:

“The No Child Left Behind law is a fraud. That may be strong language from a school superintendent, but the law is a definite political, social, and economic con.

”First, the law's basic premise — that public schools are performing poorly and need to be improved, or else something really bad is going to happen to America — is political nonsense. Right-wing zealots have used the phrase "failing public schools" so often that some think it's a fact, when it isn't,” Maffucci said.

Nonetheless, many continue to believe that No Child Left Behind, and Florida’s response to it -- the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) -- share many of the same simplistic goals, and therefore suffers from the same flaws.

And to be fair, corresponding problems with FCAT are perhaps not so much the test itself, but how the results are used:

• To retain third-graders who do not score above Level 1

• As a graduation requirement for ALL students

• To compare schools

The one-size-fits-all assumptions built into the 'all' students and 'comparing' schools requirements speak for themselves as by definition wrong.

But the third grader requirement is just plain humanly wrong.

Third grade is a critical time. To retain a child because of one test score puts too much pressure on some of our young children and can turn them away from learning because they may do excellent class work yet they do not pass the FCAT.

Dr. Shepard counters “third grade is not the only critical time for young students. Starting with kindergarten, then first and second grades, this is the most critical time for learning in young students. The basis for their education is laid, and if, at third grade, there are some students failing, then enough has not been done in those earlier years.”

At the same time she acknowledges that if Florida schools are “retaining third graders based solely on the FCAT, the schools are doing the retainees harm, not the tests. Any school district that uses only one assessment as a basis for retention is not only not being fair to the student, but using the assessment as a scapegoat; therefore drawing attention away from the district's instruction, curriculum, supervision of curriculum -- basically, school district accountability for student success.”

In the meantime, Florida legislators themselves steadfastly refuse to take the FCAT test that same legislature forces upon Florida’s children.

Are we having fun yet?

— Editorial
Boca Raton News


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