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NCLB Outrages


The Pacific Research Institute report claims that The California API system "focuses on collective school-wide performance and growth, there is no incentive to intervene and improve schools with lower-performing students as long as enough higher-performing students keep the school’s average scores above the API benchmarks. School-wide API measures fail to detect or address stagnant or declining minority student performance." This is a problem, but flaws in California's rating system doesn't make NCLB a good thing.

by Alfred Lee

California’s education system is failing, and Lance Izumi believes he has the answers. Last week, the director of Education Studies at the free-market think tank Pacific Research Institute published the authoritatively titled study Failing Our Future: The Holes in California’s School Accountability System and How to Fix Them, which he co-authored with James S. Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence.

No response yet from any California Business Against Education Excellence group, but Izumi’s report is emphatic and opinionated, boiling down to three points: 1) The No Child Left Behind Act is basically the best idea since bubble wrap; 2) The $1.25 billion spent by the state on low-performing schools, though yielding improvement in several areas, has been wasted, as it has yielded little improvement according to criteria used in No Child Left Behind, which only looks at math and reading proficiency levels on the California Standards Test; and 3) The state’s accountability system, which uses an amalgam of scores from several different tests known as the Academic Performance Index (API), should be thrown out and replaced by – and you’ve guessed it – the system used by No Child Left Behind.

“Under the No Child Left Behind Act that the federal government passed several years ago, all children are going to have to be proficient in reading and math by the year 2013-14, so therefore that’s really the goal that we need to set our eye on, not these very tiny, incremental gains that API requires,” Izumi explains.

There is widespread agreement among educators and system critics that schools in California need to perform better, but, according to Izumi, even overall improvement in test scores doesn’t mean much.

“The [API] accountability system, which is supposed to ensure that that money is ending up getting bang for our buck, isn’t exactly producing that bang because the growth targets that are given to each school are very small,” he adds

President Bush and his much-touted 2002 No Child Left Behind Act set much higher goals for school improvement. But schools with challenging populations, such as those in low-income or high-immigrant neighborhoods, argue the act’s only real effect is to punish and de-fund the schools that need the most help.

Still, the assertion that over a billion dollars hasn’t bought any significant improvement in math and reading proficiency is of real concern. California is currently fighting provisions of No Child Left Behind, preferring to keep its API accountability system.

Pat McCabe, director of policy and evaluation for the state’s Department of Education, bristles at Failing Our Future’s criticisms of API. “What do you do with all the other test results? Do you not include the results from the algebra test? Do you not include any of the science courses? Do you ignore history courses? This is the major criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act, is that it only honors whether or not a status bar [is being met].”

— Alfred Lee
Los Angeles City Beat


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