Thursday, December 02, 2004

Jenny D's objections

I've added Jenny D. to the blogroll at right. She's blogging her dissertation, which in her words, might be "dull as dishwater." But it might be incredible, too. I'm really looking to forward to seeing how that works. I think it's great. But then, I've already said on these pages that I'm a dork and, well, maybe this just confirms it.

Be sure to check out her numerous posts about RFK's positions on standardized testing. Great food for thought.

Jenny wrote about a post of mine a little over a week ago. Why so long to respond? I already responded and the message got erased on the way to being published. For those of you using Blogger, always click the "Edit HTML" button, copy your text, then publish. That was the second long entry I've lost and it's a terribly disheartening experience. Two times was enough, not again.

So about that rebuttal. Jenny correctly pointed out that if I have a problem with a test, I should take it up with the state in which I live because the federal government leaves it to the states to pick the tests. But my objection in the original post was not only about the tests themselves, but also about the requirement (in NCLB) that testing take place every year. That is not up to the states anymore. Starting this year (or is it next?) every state must test each year from 3rd to 8th grades. That's mandated by the national law so my criticism is appropriately aimed at the national level.

She goes on to write,

...[S]chools with large populations of disadvantaged students do indeed face challenges to educate all students. But the law is equally punitive. Schools without such populations still have to show Adequate Yearly Progress,...

But the law is not equally punitive -- equally embarassing perhaps, but not punitive. The fact here is that only schools that require Title I funds from the federal government -- i.e., schools with large populations of disadvantaged students -- are subject to the punitive measures of NCLB.


The reason dates back to a 1987 Supreme Court decision that said that the federal government can require states to make decisions usually relegated to the states (e.g., education), if the only punishment is to withhold federal funds. In other words, states are given the right to opt out. Several states have threatened to opt out of No Child Left Behind (I've reported on Utah and Virginia), but none have seen it through. The loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to poor schools has been a pretty powerful deterrent.

The federal government has nothing to hold over the heads of well-off schools, though, other than shame, which, admittedly, can be a very powerful motivator. The federal government requires the states to publish lists of failing schools. But it is only Title I schools that can lose federal funds.

NCLB is not equally punitive.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

Hi Brink. Okay, I'll grant you that the law isn't equally punitive, but on the other hand, the school people who complain loudest seem to be in places like Scarsdale where they don't need Title I money. That always seems a little weird to me.

I think the biggest problem with the law is that it can't link outcomes with processes, meaning that it can only look at test scores and withhold funds, rather than demanding better teaching. But that's one of the big problems with education--the processes are off-limits so it's really hard to improve.

But I'm a fan of NCLB, although I recognize it's not perfect. But as Voltaire said, "Don't let the best be the enemy of the good." NCLB is good but not the best, so let's keep it and make it better.

4:59 AM  

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