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NCLB Outrages

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Valerie Strauss at The Answer Sheet: My guests are Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill, of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a non-profit organization that works to end the misuse and flaws of standardized testing.

Ohanian Comment: Over at SubstanceNews, George Schmidt raises a serious question: MEDIA WATCH: Washington Post opens its Op Ed pages to Fair Test for a half-accurate viewpoint on Race To The Top:.

I'd like people reading Substance to take the time to read between the lines carefully. Is Fair Test really helping here, when the implicit basis of the column is that an "achievement gap" exists (the language, remember, began with the Education Trust, Achieve and other teacher bashing groups) and ignoring the input of inner city teachers to join in the general attack on inner city schools, teachers, and, in a certain way, children. Has there been any "progressive" discussion for years on the conditions of segregation, extreme poverty, nutrition, crime, and all the other factors that the children who live in our ghettos bring into the schools every day?
Read the entire Substance piece here

Meanwhile, this comment from a PostReader cant't be taken seriously but it's something I hear a lot, and it touches on a kernel of "truth" about Progressives. We talk a lot.
Reader Comment: Ok - you've got the research behind you, plus it's common sense - so what are you going to do about it besides write columns?

I don't mean to disparage your efforts; I want you to increase and target them so they can do some good.

Get into the White House.
I understand the reader's frustration. So what are those of us who write columns to do? Call up the White House and invite ourselves to tea?

I'm thinking the nearest we can get to the White House is to chain ourselves to the fence.

Or we can join Jesse in his walk.
Learn From History

Don't drink the tea.

Don't ride the bus.

Apply Historical Principles to the Present:

Don't give the test.

Do take a walk to the White House.
Blueprint: a process of photographic printing, used chiefly in copying architectural and mechanical drawings, which produces a white line on a blue background.

Obama/Duncan are copying their mechanical plan from the Business Roundtable plan devised in the late 1980ies and being pushed by the corporate-politicos of both parties ever since. Read all about it in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?

By Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill

At a time when the gaps between educational haves and have-nots are as stark as at any time in our nation's history, President Obama's and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's blueprint for intervening in our most troubled schools promises to widen these gaps.

The Blueprint fueled hopes for real change by eliminating NCLB's disastrous adequate yearly progress mechanism. It's too bad AYP wasn't killed while the law was being written, when it was first noticed that it would paint nearly all schools as failures. (See FairTest's 2004 NCLB report on why.) But scrapping it now is better than never.

Duncan aims to correct AYP's absurdly broad-brush approach by focusing on the 5%-10% of schools doing worst on state tests. This has both common sense and political appeal. Why not get off the backs of schools that are doing pretty well and focus attention on the worst of the worst?

But what are we really talking about when we talk about the worst schools?

With all the hype about schools that "beat the odds," overcome poverty and close gaps in test scores, it's easy to forget what research continues to confirm. As James Coleman found in his landmark 1966 education study, what test scores measure better than anything else is socioeconomic status (SES). So the bottom tier are inevitably schools serving largely poor, urban students of color.

Of course, many of those schools do need help. It would be a great thing if federal education law responded to this reality by creating a way to precisely identify the needs of the children, their families and their schools, and make long-term investments to provide them with essential resources, support and guidance. This is an approach advocated by FairTest, the Forum on Educational Accountability and others.

But here's where common sense takes a holiday. The Blueprint's response is to tighten the screws on these schools. If they continue to score low, they must choose from a menu of snake oil "remedies," many unproven, and some well-proven failures, such as firing and replacing a school's staff or closing and reopening a school as a charter school.

Though initially hyped as successful, Secretary Duncan's use of similar interventions in Chicago now has been revealed as a failure, with little to no progress in achievement and increases in dislocation and youth violence.

Researchers have hunted for evidence that these or similar approaches have succeeded in the past and found none.

So the blueprint's remedies promise to ensure that the children of the poor are trapped in schools doing all the destructive things we've already seen under NCLB. Desperate to avoid this list of devastating interventions, they will keep right on narrowing teaching and learning to what's on the test, with little time or resources for the richer, more engaging curriculum poor kids deserve as much as anyone.

The good news is that releasing all but the lowest performing schools from AYP will at least partially free many schools that serve the children of middle class and affluent families from the pressure to focus on boosting test scores in math and reading.

What resources exist could be put back into areas deemed luxuries and therefore eliminated under NCLB--things like social studies, art, music, physical education and recess. Writing, reading and math might again be more than endless practice for test questions, which has affected wealthier districts too.

The worst news is that by trapping the poorest children in NCLB's negative cycle and somewhat freeing the rest, we will only add to what Jonathan Kozol called "The Shame of the Nation," widening gaps in educational opportunity and quality.

— Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill
Washington Post Class Struggle


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