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NCLB Outrages

NCLB: the worst in rogue's gallery of bad laws

by Mansel Phillips

SPEARMAN - Throughout the history of this nation, there have been instances of bad laws, bad policy and/or poor implementation of laws and policies.

Sometimes laws, or bureaucratic decisions, do nothing worse than cost the U.S. Treasury a bunch of money. A current example of this madness is the issuance of another new silver dollar. This one will most probably meet the same fate as its two predecessors - it won't be used in commerce, and the only ones interested in it will be coin collectors.

A more serious instance of bad law occurred 20 or so years ago, when, in the middle of the night, a representative from Rhode Island put into a law a provision that raised the amount of money insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from $20,000 to $100,000 for a single account. The result of this action was the failure of many banks and savings and loans.

The S&L scandal cost taxpayers billions of dollars and ruined a lot of people in the process.

Another example of a stupid law was when the Congress decided to raise some money by levying a very high tax on so-called luxury items such as yachts, high-priced automobiles, and airplanes used for pleasure and business. Well, as any rational person would have predicted, people quit buying these items in the United States.

Thousands of people lost their jobs when the boat yards closed and the sales of (so-called) luxury automobiles and airplanes practically stopped. After four or five years, the politicians in Washington came to their senses and repealed the luxury tax. Many of those boat yards never reopened.

Well, I've been picking on the feds up to now; it's only fair to take a shot (figuratively, of course) at the folks in Austin.

In the guise of raising money, they just raised the tax on cigarettes by a dollar a pack. Lay a five-dollar bill down on the counter for a pack of cigarettes, and what you get back is the cigarettes and a little bit of change.

This will cause a few people to give up the nasty habit, and that's a good thing. The larger result will be the return of that old and honorable American industry, bootlegging, only the product will be cigarettes instead of booze. The state troopers who run back and forth on I-40 finding illegal drugs and money will have to get a tobacco sniffing dog, because the cigarette bootleggers bringing smokes from the Indian reservations and adjoining states will get pretty active.

It is time to put away the preliminaries and get down to the main event. The federal No Child Left Behind act, whose parent is the standardized testing of children in public schools, in Texas and most other states, is up for renewal in Congress.

It probably would be most charitable to think the folks in Washington who wrote and passed this monstrosity in 2002 were just too dumb to understand the consequences of the law. If we accept their dumbness, then we see that they unknowingly activated The Law of Unintended Consequences.

At least I hope it was dumbness. Otherwise, they should be prosecuted for the damage that has been inflicted on the schools, the teachers and, most of all, the students in our public schools.

The No Child Left Behind act and, in Texas, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills are standardized measurements intended to reveal students' knowledge of specified subjects; not all subjects, just some.

This is a noble but impractical objective. Because all students are different and learn in different ways and at different rates, statewide standardized tests cannot truly work.

Moreover, NCLB and TAKS are punitive. If students do not pass the state-provided test, the teacher, the principal and the school district are subjected to dire consequences. Threats of dire consequences alter human behavior. In the public school system, the emphasis has changed from educating the students to assuring that the students pass "the test" - two different things entirely.

In some schools, it is reported that as much as 30 percent of instructional time is devoted to "test prep," also known as "teaching to the test." In some elementary schools, recess has been done away with so more time is available for "test prep." Curricula are "narrowed"; i.e., subjects not tested are being de-emphasized or eliminated.

NCLB and TAKS do not yield the intended result, which is a true measure of students' knowledge. And bonuses to teachers based on students' test scores is a very bad idea.

NCLB and TAKS should be eliminated or radically changed.

— Mansel Phillips
Amarillo Globe-News


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