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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Produces Many Unintended Negative Consequences

Ohanian Comment: On the one hand, I agree with Dr. Holson: Don't vote for anyone who supports NCLB. But that means voting for Ralph Nader. . . and handing the election to Bush. I find it crushing that to vote one's convictions gives Bush four more years to destroy the country and to vote for Kerry gives Standardistas four more years to destroy public schools and the children in them.

Last time, I voted my conscience and voted Green. This time, for the first time in my life, as I handed in my absentee ballot I didn't consider education policy in my vote. And it breaks my heart.

I am pleased that Dr. Holson makes the point that Since poverty is the primary cause of such [academic] failures, more jobs, better jobs, an adequate minimum wage and improved access to health care are not just equity issues, they are also important educational issues. But I disagree with the title of this piece. As Kathy Emery and I show in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? the negative consequences of NCLB are not unintended; they are very deliberate.

(Editor's Note: This is the last in a six-part series of guest columns on the subject of the No Child Left Behind Act and it's effect on the Socorro Consolidated Schools, written by Robert Holson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and education at New Mexico Tech. Dr. Holson has dedicated extensive study to the subject, however the views expressed in this series are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of his department, New Mexico Tech, the Socorro Consolidated Schools or El Defensor Chieftain. The previous parts of this series were published in the Chieftain on Sept. 29, Oct. 2, Oct. 13, Oct. 16 and Oct. 20.)

By now the reader is aware that the NCLB is a fundamentally punitive law that uses unachievable, fantasy-based academic improvement targets to label schools as failures, and then punishes these "failing" schools with counterproductive sanctions. These sanctions are harmful, but are alas only a part of the harm done by NCLB.

Many educators assert that over-emphasis on test performance in itself ultimately harms the education process. Such emphasis necessarily results in teaching to the test. Such total focus on test performance ignores a host of other important educational objectives, including citizenship, art, music and even sports. Worse still, schools will be forced to target their teaching towards those students whose proficiency scores can be easily improved from failing to passing. This results in neglect of the extremes. Academically gifted and severely academically challenged children will be slighted, because in neither case will attention change the pass rate.

Persistent test failure can also have a devastating impact on individual academically disadvantaged children, the sons and daughters of the poor most of all. In order to improve proficiency rates, schools will be tempted to hold low performers in grade, often for years. Worse, some schools may succumb to surreptitiously pushing failing children right out of the educational system. This seems to have happened in the supposed model of NCLB success, the Houston school system.1 Even without such formal school sanctions, it requires little imagination to picture the effect of persistent test failure on individual students. Such failure will increase school aversion, acting out and eventual dropout. Indeed, there is already ample evidence that over-emphasis on testing does just that increases school dropout rates.2

If schools are "failing," NCLB also mandates a number of negative Interventions prior to actual school take-over. According to New Mexico Administrative Code 6.19.1.

"Public School Accountability: General Provisions,"3 if a school fails to meet AYP for one year, it falls into the "performance warned" category. If a school fails to meet the specified amount of AYP for two consecutive years in the same grade, same subject in any group, or subgroups, that school will be placed in the School Improvement 1 category. After a third year of failure, the school becomes School Improvement 2 category; and after a fourth year, the school is eligible for takeover.

Prior to actual school takeover, NCLB also mandates that any school failing to meet AYP for two consecutive years must provide busing to any other school in the district not failing, if so requested by any student. Cost of busing must be met by the failing school. Now this provision will not be a problem in the Magdalena School District, or in Socorro High or Middle Schools. Where else would students go? It could produce problems at the elementary level, however, if any significant number of students in underperforming elementary schools begin to demand busing to, for instance, San Antonio. Since students whose parents make such demands are likely to be the better students, this provision of NCLB could drain both proficient students and resources from schools already experiencing difficulty.

Still prior to actual school takeover, as failing schools struggle to increase performance, scapegoating of teachers will reduce morale, performance and recruitment. This is necessarily another harm done by NCLB. Teachers aren't stupid, and what teacher will want to go down with a sinking school?

Finally, if a school fails for four consecutive years, it is eligible for the euphemistically labelled "corrective action," actually school take-over. The code states: "Corrective action involves suspension of the authority and responsibility of the local school board and subsequent State Board approved action, including: management by Department, contracted management (e.g., by another school district, individual, group, private company, university) or other action as deemed appropriate by the State Board upon recommendation by the (State) Department (of Education)."3

This chilling administrative code provides no further details of the precise form of this school takeover, evidently leaving the choice up to State bureaucrats. Whatever the exact details, it is certain that such takeover will remove local control of the schools, replacing them with alternatives funded by but not controlled by local taxpayers, in short, ourselves. Talk about taxation without representation!

NCLB, then, is yet another example of an underfunded Federal mandate. One reason the act passed the Congress was that it promised large amounts of Federal financial support to struggling school districts. Given the failure of the Bush administration to adequately fund domestic programs, it is hardly surprising that the promised funding has not been forthcoming. Thus since its inception in 2001, NCLB has been underfunded by about a quarter of the promised amount, already amounting to a shortfall of over 26 billion dollars. With ever-increasing budget deficits and the remaining monies increasingly devoted to the war in Iraq, it is obvious that these NCLB funding shortfalls can only increase, even as thousands of schools all over the United States fail to meet the fantasy achievement goals mandated by this act.

Given the massive flaws in NCLB, it is only fair to briefly outline interventions which are science-based and just might decrease academic failure rates. Since poverty is the primary cause of such failures, more jobs, better jobs, an adequate minimum wage and improved access to health care are not just equity issues, they are also important educational issues.

Attempts to improve the learning environment in the home have also shown real promise, when conducted in close collaboration with the local schools.4 Full funding of Head Start and other summer and after-school programs would also help a great deal, as would additional funding to reduce current class size. Regretably, in the existing political climate of ever-increasing reductions in funding for the poor, or indeed for any non-military programs, it is hardly likely that this country will find the very large amounts of money required for any of the above initiatives.

This leaves the buck stopped where? In a representative democracy, it always stops. That is with the voters. Only a better-informed public, via a more informative media, will be able to turn this situation around. Always remember, it is not just our children who are failing to attain sufficient mastery of the world of knowledge! The Public Schools are public, and it is our duty as parents, teachers, administrators and citizens to be knowledgeable and proactive on such issues. An informed, engaged public would quickly put an end to the destructive charade that is NCLB. All that is required is that we not vote for anyone at the local, state or national level who supports this massive attack on the public schools. It's that simple, really. The public too needs to stop scapegoating "failed" schools, teachers and children, and start looking in the mirror. We can save our schools, but only if we get informed and then get active.

1. Michael Winerip, "The 'Zero Dropout' Miracle: Alas!, Alack! A Texas Tall Tale." New York Times, August 13, 2003.

2. Monty Neill, Lisa Guisbond & Bob Schaeffer, "Failing Our Children: How 'No Child Left Behind' undermines Quality and Equity in Education." National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2004. Access at: http://www.fairtest.org/Failing_ Our_Children_Report.html

3. New Mexico Administrative Code 6.19.1, "Public School Accountability: General Provisions"; and 6.19.2, "Public School Accountability System for Schools Rated Probationary." Issuing Agency: State Board of Education, 2002.

4. "A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement." SouthWest Educational Development Laboratory, 2004. Access at: www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf.

— Dr. Robert Holson
El Defensor Chieftain


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