Saturday, October 16, 2004

NYC Lawsuit aimed at key promise of No Child Left Behind

I wrote a few days ago about the 1,600 California schools that are failing under NCLB's guidelines. Parents of children at those schools are eligible to transfer their children to public schools that aren't failing. One problem: There are so many schools failing that there isn't enough space in the successful ones for all of the transfers.

I read of one situation (Camden, NJ) where every single high school in the city was failing. So students can transfer to ... Delaware?!?

And now, because of this same problem, there's a lawsuit brewing in New York City in which 300,000 students in failing schools -- apparently denied the right to transfer -- will be named as plaintiffs.

It'll probably lose. But over time this situation will only get worse. As I wrote the other day, each year the schools have to pass a higher percentage of students to avoid being tagged as failures.

I don't see how, logistically speaking, the promises of No Child Left Behind can be kept.

The problems of textbook adoption

I don't usually agree with the Fordham Foundation. But I think all reasonable people -- liberal, conservative, or otherwise -- can agree that the textbook adoption process is deeply flawed. The far left and the far right both have been very effective in hijacking the process, forcing publishers to represent fringe views in textbooks in order to receive lucrative contracts.

The process has become so fraught with difficulties that small, innovative publishers can't compete. Saxon math books (which I've used in class and love) are but one casualty in the textbook adoption wars which have consolidated the $4.3 billion (yes that's billion) industry into a mere four companies. Many of the greatest textbooks never have a chance of making it into the public schools.

The Fordham Foundation has done a great service in analyzing the problem in great detail and advocating a very reasonable plan of action. It's worth a look:

Meanwhile, there's a controversy over the adoption of health textbooks brewing here in Texas. Apparently, some influential conservative groups (including a shadowy one called the Texas Eagle Forum) decided that sex education should be left out of the health textbooks and pushed hard to get their preferred textbook adopted. (Texas leads the nation in teen pregnancies. Obviously, we don't need to talk about sex education in health class.) The State Board of Education will rule on this in November.

It seems pretty clear what the strategy of the Christian Right is on this one, though. Consider this: “If we can have people of faith on the school board we can change this culture, we can change the public school…” -Rev. Bill Banuchi, Executive Director, NYS Christian Coalition.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

How many schools can the government take over?

It's very hard to understand exactly what's going on with No Child Left Behind. It's confusing. But California, which yesterday released last year's test scores, sheds some light on the situation. Consider this from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The number of California schools facing possible penalties because they failed to meet federal test-score standards under the No Child Left Behind education act soared 45 percent to 1,626 since last year -- and educators say the bad news will only get worse next year when the requirements will be much tougher.

... This year, far fewer students in each school and district had to score proficient: Just 9.6 to 16 percent, depending on the age of the students and the subject. Next year, the rate rises to 26.5 percent. It will stay there for three years, then rise to 37 percent for the test taken in spring 2007, then rise steadily until 2014.

To sum up: this year, no more than 16% of students had to pass and over 1,500 schools failed!! That's about one out of five schools. Next year, schools must have a 26.5% passing rate so we can expect the amount of punished schools will spike dramatically.

If the schools don't meet those levels for several years in a row, the schools can be taken over and forced to implement "Program Improvement" which "could include replacing every school employee."

Wow. So much for a conservative President who tries to keep the federal government out of our lives.

As one teacher put it,

No Child Left Behind feels like a cruel case of adding insult to injury. We are working with a challenging population. I have students with parents who are in prison, others who are in group homes (and) others who are language learners. (The law) makes no allowances for any of this.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004


"It has been largely assumed by policy makers that external tests do, in fact, adequately measure student learning. These and other assumptions about school accountability must be questioned if we are to develop a more successful accountability model."
-Ken Jones, director of teacher education, University of Southern Maine

Flipping through the channels last night, I caught a little of Larry King's interview with First Lady Laura Bush. A former teacher, Mrs. Bush was asked what she liked best about teaching. Her response: the relationships. It's a common answer. Teachers who don't connect with their students will usually fail to teach anything truly meaningful or worthwhile. But teachers who really make a difference get to know their students and become personally invested in their futures.

Lasting student learning happens when teachers care about students.

For a "balanced accountability" (that Jones outlines meticulously in the link above) we need to consider not only quantitative analyses of standardized tests but also qualitative ones.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Why is Bush not talking about education?

I was hard on Kerry's education plan yesterday-- and rightfully so. But I have to give him credit. At least he's talking about education. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Kerry referenced education 26 times in the presidential debate. President Bush: twice. Very interesting for the guy who three and a half years ago said No Child Left Behind would be the cornerstone of his presidency. Why's he not talking about it if it's -- as Sec. of Education Rod Paige claims -- such an unparalleled success?

Hmmmm... Perhaps, it's not? It'll be interesting to see what's said -- and what's not said -- in the final debate.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Kerry's position on No Child Left Behind

It seems to me that Kerry is digging himself a hole. He says he wants to "fully fund" No Child Left Behind as if the lack of funds was its only problem. To me, he's pandering. Consider this from Friday's San Francisco Chronicle:

So instead of venturing into the esoteric pros and cons of the arcane
regulations of No Child Left Behind [in the debate], Kerry is likely to boil his education argument down to a single word: money.

It's a word that parents and students who attend the nation's cash-
starved public schools easily understand. And it's a word that has helped
attract most of the nation's educators into Kerry's camp like iron flecks to
a magnet. (

This law needs a major overhaul, not just an infusion of cash. If your car's broken down, you can't merely give it more gas. You get the engine fixed.

At least 30 state legislatures have called for or passed substantive reforms of NCLB. I understand that no one can discuss NCLB in a meaningful way in a two minute answer or a 9-second response, but this law is a debacle and someone needs to say it on a national stage.

At this point, it's too late for Kerry to do that. The Bush people would have a field day with the whole "flip-flop" thing if he changed his position. But I hope that if he's elected he'll put some people in place who will look very critically at No Child Left Behind and realize that it's not worth fully funding.

Otherwise, we're going to end up with schools filled with teachers and administrators preoccupied with teaching the narrow set of skills and knowledge that they think will appear on standardized tests. Eventually, after hundreds of billions in expenses, we'll end up with a nation of excellent test-takers. But does that mean our kids will actually be well educated?
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