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NCLB Outrages

Do we need a basic rewrite of No Child Left Behind?

Ohanian Comment: I post a few snippets from this discussion on NCLB, narrated by PBS's John Merrow, Education Correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and President of Learning Matters Incorporated, as a warning. Should you wish to inflict more damage on your psyche, the url for the complete discussion is below.

Note how Merrow sets the tone: Any talk of abandoning No Child Left Behind is foolish. . . . So nobody who advocates ending NCLB is invited to the table. No grassroots activist was invited. "Activists" by definition in this atmosphere have ties to places like the Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute. As Iâve been pointing out incessantly, those who come close to saying "dump NCLB" do so only as part of their strident calls for national standards and a national test.

But don't miss these gems:

  • NCLB as the vehicle for "beaming sunshine" down on public schools.

  • We as a nation have no aversion to national standards; we set them for everything from food to cars to toys. Why not national standards for all students in reading and math?

  • [L]et me throw into the mix Education Sector's findingâthat we spend 15 cents of every $100 education dollars on NCLB testing. I know from conversations with the folks who make kitty litter, flea powder and other Hartz pet products that it spends at least 10 times that much testing its products.

  • I am struck by the wisdom of Achieve, Eli Broad and others who talk about 'Common Standards,â perhaps recognizing that 'national' and 'federal' are widely confused concepts and red flags to many Americans.

  • Count how many times panelists proclaim, "I agree with Checker/Chester [Finn].

    by John Merrow

    Any talk of abandoning No Child Left Behind is foolish because NCLB is the continuation of a long trail of federal education legislation that traces back to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

    Congress and the next Administration must do something, but what? That's the question posed to a remarkable roster of deep thinkers and activists.

    Here is the roster of "deep thinkers and activists." =Please note how many toadies to the Business Roundtable agenda for education are on the list.

    ⢠John Merrow,
    --[L]et me throw into the mix Education Sector's findingâthat we spend 15 cents of every $100 education dollars on NCLB testing. I know from conversations with the folks who make kitty litter, flea powder and other Hartz pet products that it spends at least 10 times that much testing its products. . . .I am struck by the wisdom of Achieve, Eli Broad and others who talk about 'Common Standards,â perhaps recognizing that 'national' and 'federal' are widely confused concepts and red flags to many Americans."

    ⢠Christopher Cerf, Deputy Chancellor
    New York City Department of Education; former President and Chief Operating Officer of Edison Schools, Inc.
    --"For all its flaws, NCLB transformed educational opportunity, especially for urban children. . . . Checker [Finn] and others are right that a national test is critical (I'd go with national standards myself) if we are to avoid the shameless race to the bottom many states are now pursuing. . . . NCLB got it right in holding schools accountable for getting all students at least to a minimal level of proficiency on objective tests. Now the real work begins: 1) improving the tests; 2) norming them to national standards or keying off a single national test; 3) teacher development around sound teaching of content rather than test-taking skills, to name a few. But let's not fall into the trap of believing that the whole enterprise is beyond repair."

    ⢠Chester E. Finn, Jr., President
    The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Senior Fellow Hoover Institution
    --"[T]he proper federal role is to set the academic standards (or have them set via some suitable national or multi-state entity), administer the assessments and report the results...Instead of ganging up to clobber NCLB, let's at least acknowledge that it's done a better job than anything before it of beaming sunshine down on the academic performance of every public school in the land and equipping parents, educators and state/local policymakers across America, as well as journalists and community leaders, with valuable information about how kids are doing in their own and other schools."

    ⢠Frederick M. Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI); associated with Finn at Hoover Institution's Education Next
    --"I see a strong case for setting clear and coherent metrics for measuring achievement, demanding that states identify particularly low-performing schools and identify strategies for addressing them, and reshaping NCLB so as to encourage new providers and delivery systems. This will likely mean moving away from the SEA/LEA framework that worked well as a mechanism for pushing out dollars, but not so well as a means for addressing mediocre schools or pioneering more effective solutions. Would this constitute a radical rewrite of NCLB? I'm not sure. I guess it depends on what one regards as the core precepts of the law. But either way, I do fear that standing by the lawâs "bright-line" principles as currently understood has a real chance to not only unravel NCLB but to set back a quarter-century's worth of thoughtful efforts to bring schools out of an era of input regulation and promote meaningful educational accountability."

    ⢠Ryan Hill, Founder and Executive Director of TEAM Schools, a network of KIPP schools in Newark, New Jersey
    --"The philosophical mind-set shift that NCLB forced upon our country is not trivial and its importance should not be underestimated. . . . To improve the data set, we need a national test."

    ⢠Philip K. Howard , lawyer; author The Death of Common Sense (and founder of the forum on which this discussion appears)
    --"With information from national uniform testing, more nuanced judgments can be made about success of schools, taking into account all factors. This information can be a powerful management tool, but those judgments can't be prescribed in advance. . . . I read through the 670 page statute this week, with some pain, and do not see the point of most of those bureaucratic provisions. I'd vote for focus on uniform standards, with tracking of individual students. I'd do away with most of the rest, and replace rigid accountability with affirmative outreach programs to deal with problem schools and districts. . . .someone has to come and say what doesnât work and needs to be eliminated. AYP? I vote to eliminate it. Teacher certification? I vote to eliminate itâis that really what the federal government is good at? Complex formulas for funding? A bridge too far. Focus funding on affirmative programs to improve leadership, or provide resources to manage troubled students so they don't disrupt the learning of everyone else.

    Law is not neutral, even if it seems innocuous. Law diverts the attention of educators towards compliance when they ought to be thinking about the students in front of them. For that reason alone, the elaborate regulatory structure of NCLB is a mistake, no matter how thoughtfully constructed. That's why it needs, in my view, a radical downsizing."

    ⢠Charles Kolb, President of the Committee for Economic Development (CED)
    --"On balance I find that NCLB has been a positive development. . . . What Iâd like to ask is whether any of the participants envision a role for the American business community in what comes next for NCLB?"

    ⢠Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation; former President and Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University
    -- "I donât believe it is necessary to say that schools have failed to make the case for NCLB. Our entire world is changing-economically, demographically, technologically and globally. . . . Information economies focus on common outcomes and industrial societies emphasize common processes. Americaâs shift to an information economy meant learning replaced teaching as the principal concern of schooling. This meant standards-based education, assessment and accountability. The information economy also made it essential that students have higher skill and knowledge levels than ever before."

    ⢠Sara Mead, Senior Research Fellow, Education Policy Program and Workforce and Family Program at New America Foundation; formerly at Progressive Policy Institute, where she remains a nonresident fellow [Ohanian has been warning you about this outfit.]
    --"New America has joined with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in advocating high-quality voluntary national standards. . . .weâve been bogged down for too long in a debate over whether or not test scores are an appropriate way to measure teacher effectiveness. Itâs time to move beyond that debate to look at validated, reliable measures that actually observe what teachers are doing in the classroom, determine whether or not theyâre engaging in practices demonstrated by research to improve student learning, and provide feedback to help them improve."

    ⢠Diane Ravitch, research professor NYU; trustee of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and is a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution
    --"Never before has the federal government reached so deeply into each and every public school in the nation. There was a fundamental error, however, in allowing states to define their own standards and write their own tests."
    Advocates national testing à la NAEP.

    ⢠Thomas Rogers, Ed.D., Executive Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents
    --"[T]he law has changed the dialogue in education from process accountability to one of outcome accountability. Most of the tomes of education law adopted by states like New York require adherence to processâpresuming adherence results in achievement. Now weâre moving from "I taught it" to "they learned it. . . . we should be bullish on the prospects for richer standards leading to better tests. . . . Globalization and the knowledge revolution have almost overnight reprioritized skills for the high-wage workers we hope our children become. Our standards have been slow to keep up. . ."

    ⢠Sol Stern, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow
    --"[T]here is nothing inherent in the federal law that produces such destructive effects and almost always it's the state and district education officials that are behaving irresponsibly and often for political motives. . . . Prospective teachers attending the most prestigious ed schools in the land, including Columbiaâs Teachers College, are likely to get a huge dose of Paolo Freire, Jonathan Kozol and William Ayers (American Education Research Associationâs [AERA] Vice President for Curriculum)âbut will hardly have heard of Diane Ravitch and E.D. Hirsch. They will know all about multiculturalism and diversity (the left wing versions) but nothing about the science of reading instruction. And for good measure they will have to demonstrate a "disposition" to social justice, but will remain clueless about how to manage a classroom in a typical inner city school. And if you want to discover why 2/3 of inner city, minority kids can't read proficiently at fourth grade the best place to start is the steady diet of whole language and balanced literacy their teachers received at their ed schools."

    ⢠Gerald N. Tirozzi, Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP); former Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education; serves on several advisory boards, including Pearson Education National Policy Board
    --If Congress truly wants to drive an education agenda for higher academic standards, it must not be content with a "tinkering" reauthorization of NCLB. If the goal of Congress is to be competitive in a rapidly growing global economy and address the inequality that exists for low income and minority students, it should shake the law at its foundation to institute national standards and a national test in reading and math. . . .We as a nation have no aversion to national standards; we set them for everything from food to cars to toys. Why not national standards for all students in reading and math?"

    ⢠Deborah Wadsworth, former Public Agenda Executive Director; chair of board Bennington College
    [Listed as a participating 'deep thinker and activist' but did not participate]

    ⢠Jerry Wartgow, former Superintendent of Denver Public Schools
    --"NCLB was conceived and drafted by a strong bipartisan coalition of bright and well-intentioned people who shared the noble goal of improving public education and raising achievement for all students through implementation of the theories of standards-based education reform. . . .We have learned from the experience of the past five years that national standards and a national test would be far more valuable in measuring success and much less bureaucratically burdensome on the states and schools than the current system."

    ⢠Randi Weingarten, newly elected President American Federation of Teachers (AFT); a lawyer and active member of the Democratic National Committee
    --"John Merrow is right: Helping all kids achieve, particularly kids at risk, was always the main goal of federal education law. NCLB correctly set high standards, but it over-emphasized testing and sanctions at the expense of helping all kids achieve. . . . It's great that Achieve has been able to find a way to move toward national standards by working with the states and moving the consensus outwards, rather than starting at the top and moving down. Their work shows it's doable and I'd like to see more of it, more states, more subjects."

    ⢠Deb White, science at Cody High School in Cody, Wyoming, for 20 years
    --"Obviously the intention behind NCLB was positive; however the law itself is entirely punitive. . . .Teachers who are evaluated by their test results are in a no-win situation. There are so many factors beyond the control of both teachers and schools. There is no career more important than teaching, but also no career where the person held accountable for the outcome (or product) has less ability to control the variables affecting that outcome. A teacher is totally accountable for whoever shows up. . . . Maybe a national test for minimum standards. . . . All students do not learn in the same way and all students cannot be evaluated in the same way. In factâwe don't want to produce students who are all alike."

    Comment by Lynn:
    I got through about 15 responses in this discussion before I got bored. Mainly because these folks keep saying the same thing in different ways. I have two questions for these participants: Have you ever taught in a K-12 public school classroom? If so, how long has it been since you were there? If any of these people have never had K-12 experience, I'm not particularly interested in what they have to say. The only real experts in a discussion like this are current and recently former teachers.
    I've been teaching low-income children for 6 years and each has gotten progressively worse in terms of pressure from NCLB. The unrealistic expectations make me want to get out, but the difference I make every day is impossible to capture in any other job. Also, I wholeheartedly disagree. . . about being able to teach prospective teachers protocols to turn them into solid educators. The core skills one needs to teach are either there or they aren't. I live and teach in a large university community and take an average of 6 teachers-in-training as classroom volunteers every semester. It is quite evident almost immediately who will make a solid teacher, who needs work but has promise, and who should find a different career. No amount of protocol teaching can help those who don't have inherent teaching qualities. Teaching is an art, not a science.

    Comment by Grant Wiggins: My 2 cents. I wish people would stop talking as if nclb were only or mostly negative. It has been instrumental in getting thousands of faculties off the dime - especially in non-urban schools where they have been able to pretend that they were far better than they are. Many districts that I have worked with have had to deal with sub-populations that they were basically ignoring for years including districts that look really good by conventional measures (like Princeton with its hispanic population). It has been far too fashionable to have an outside bogeyman to blame for problems that are in our own midst. The NY Times has it right, as do the Civil Rights groups: on balance the law is a good thing and no viable substitute has been proposed for the accountability piece. Sure, tweak it and overcome its crudeness. But we derail it at our peril. And you can quote me.

    Comment by John Thompson: John, I'm frustrated by your opening questions. I've always admired your work, but they sound like a "bait and switch." You started with an endorsement of NCLB, but shouldn't the question be about NCLB-type accountability. If I heard correctly, most panelists challenged national test-driven accountability. You said that we spend 15 cents of every $100 on testing, but isn't that the problem with NCLB I? Its another example of "Fire! Ready. Aim." Then when you started off today with the issue of National Standards, you started us off on the path that gave us NCLB. The next step is "better tools, curricula, and instruction stategies." No! That's not the only way! What about the Turnaround Challenge which concluded that instruction-driven reforms are inherently incapable of turning around the complex ecosystem of the highest challenge schools. There are a lot of options for the easier challenge of high poverty magnet schools and elementary schools, but turning around high poverty neighborhood schools requires the building of trusting and respectful relationships. Standards are a good idea. The reason why NCLB was so destructive, though, is that we started with Standards, then replicating best practices for low poverty, magnet, and elementary schools and then rushing into applying those strategies in order to turn around high poverty secondary schools. If our goal is improving high poverty schools, look at them in their own right, not through the prism of preordained ideology. Ryan, I mostly agree with you, and you can tell that you were a teacher. But I would say that NCLB-type accountability is a 1910 contraption being imposed on 2008 complexities. Teaching is a people business. We want to share the glories of teaching and learning in the 21st century, not reinventing Taylorism. This is what happens when we lower our sights from creating a learning culture that celebrates thought, and creativity, and communication, and we get bogged down in the blame and shame game.

    — John Merrow and panel
    New Talk


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