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NCLB Outrages

Rx for failure - Pay more to teach less

Debra J. Saunders has been spilling her predictable venom against public schools and the teachers in them for many years. She is not worth the time of day. But Don Perl has offered a good response and so Debra gets her moment in the sun.

Don Perl comment:

Ok, so I read this, held my nose, then held my breath, and then wrote this response: I encourage others to write as well:

Dear Ms. Saunders:
I have thought quite a bit about your opinion piece regarding NCLB dated July 26th. As president of our Coalition for Better Education, Inc, I have also done quite a bit of research on education, and have spent thirty-five years in classrooms in both the United States and Mexico. I have come to the conclusion that our public schools are under attack from Corporate America, and neither political party is really interested in preserving public education as the cornerstone to democracy. Oh, they may sing the songs of "high standards" and "accountability" and appear sincere in their talk of improving schools, but the truth is that they too are dancing for the fiddler. Please see Susan Ohanian's book, WHY IS CORPORATE AMERICA BASHING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
And, with all due respect, Ms. Saunders, the NCLB statistics have been manipulated to give the appearance of success. Have you delved into the truth behind the "Texas Miracle" where we see the numbers worked in ways that will fulfill the requirements of NCLB?

I also recommend to you two books which open the discussion of what is really happening in the wake of this mad emphasis on test scores. THE SHAME OF THE NATION by Jonathan Kozol, and COLATERAL DAMAGE by Sharon L. Nichols and David Berliner. The former work emphasizes such phenomena as white flight and the further marginalization of our society. We read very little of the importance of integration, the development of co-operation and compassion in today's blind focus on test scores. The latter work underscores the effect of what is called "Campbell's law," named for social psychologist and philosopher of science Donald Campbell. He wrote, "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more it will be subject to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor."

Let us also keep in mind that eliminating achievement gaps is paramount among the goals of NCLB. However, equal educational opportunity is not. NCLB is silent on equalizing resources, addressing poverty, combating segregation or guaranteeing children an opportunity to learn. Thus, NCLB represents a diminished vision of civil rights, and is indeed increasing the achievement gap.

Please see our website and the website of nationally known education writer Susan Ohanian - www.susanohanian.org. And too, I invite you to the website of the petition to dismantle NCLB which now has over 30,000 signatures: www.educatorroundtable.org.

Respectfully submitted,
Don Perl
President, The Coalition for Better Education, Inc.

by Debra J. Saunders

WITH DEMOCRATS now in control of Congress, expect Congress to try to water
down No Child Left Behind, as Washington works on a bill to reauthorize the landmark Bush education reform enacted in 2002. That is, expect Democrats to try to squeeze as much money as possible from federal taxpayers, while watering down accountability requirements so that schools
won't have to do a better job of teaching. And they'll do it by undermining the testing system so that illiterate students can be labeled as success stories.

Or, as U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said during a phone interview Thursday, "All the people who have railed against too much
testing now are for multiple measures" - which entail more tests, but tests that can hide what children are not learning. "The more complicated" the tests they propose, "frankly the more obfuscation" results, Spellings noted.

As Education Week reported in May, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a new member of Congress and a former schoolteacher, wants to add portfolio assessments of student work - essays, drawings and reports - to measure whether students are reading and doing math at grade level. National Education Association President Reg Weaver has proposed the same.

Such a proposal shows, as Spellings pointed out, that they can support more testing - if it is amorphous testing that can pave over gaps in a
child's knowledge. The argument for adding portfolios to NCLB assessments, Spellings noted,
is, "We're over-testing (students), so let's have more tests." You've heard the arguments against standardized tests. They are "one size fits
all." They do not measure the scope of a child's understanding. They are boring. They represent drill and kill. They are unfair to non-English

But as Spellings noted, "The reason we have assessments is to find out how many poor and minority children read at grade level." If schools had not made a practice of graduating students who do not read or compute at grade level, these tests would not be necessary. But in that so many students have fallen behind - while their grades have not - standardized tests have become an essential tool in the public's quest, first, to find out which
schools are failing students, then, fixing those schools. Standardized tests also can help determine which teaching methodologies and textbooks
work best with different student groups.

Where critics see "once-size-fits-all," others see tests that can find gaps in student knowledge - so that teachers can fix them.

In June, a report by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy found that significant improvement among elementary school math students in 37 of 41
states, as well as improvement in middle school reading in 20 out of 39 states, and in high school reading, in 16 out of 37 states, according to
the Washington Post. After years of dumbed-down education, these modest gains are cause for celebration.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D.-N.H., according to Education Week, once called No Child Left Behind an attempt by Republicans to "undermine our
confidence in our public schools."

In fact, the bill, while imperfect, was designed to increase confidence in public schools, not by pretending that failing schools work well, but by
making failing schools better.

E-mail: dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

— Debra J. Saunders with response by Don Perl
San Francisco Chronicle


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