Thursday, July 28, 2005

Struggling schools need help, not punishment

Another excellent editorial today on NCLB. This one from the Palm Beach Post. A sample follows:

Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie school districts have failed NCLB three years in a row. (Palm Beach and Martin failed NCLB this year even though each got an A grade from the state. St. Lucie got a C.) If the districts fail a fourth year, consequences include: Reopening schools as charter schools; replacing all or most of the staff responsible for lack of progress; letting private companies operate the schools; turning over school operation to the state.

Those are dramatic, all right. But effective? Charter schools have a very mixed record. So do private companies. Switching to them is no guarantee of improvement. Firing those "responsible for lack of improvement" would be very tricky...

And good luck finding new teachers to replace the old ones because 1) there's no incentive to take on the tough students and 2) there's a looming shortage of teachers for a variety of reasons — low salary, low respect, etc.

Excellent points. The author agrees with most that the tests themselves aren't the problem; they should be part of the solution. Tests are important tools for teachers. It's not the tests, it's how they're being used:

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test takes a lot of flak. But the FCAT isn't the problem. The FCAT, in fact, is a good and necessary collection of tests. Sure, there are some kids who don't test well. But most kids who can't pass the FCAT in reading or math really need more help in reading and math. Science is being added to the FCAT, and social sciences eventually will be tested. I'm all for that.

The consequences when a school's students perform badly on the FCAT is where the whole thing goes haywire. If a school earns an F two years in a row, students can transfer to a better-scoring school or get a voucher to attend a private school. The problem is that even students doing well can move. That doesn't make sense. Neither does the fact that voucher students don't have to do any better at the private school than they did at the public school they fled.

Anybody want to try to answer that?

The solution, according to editorial writer Jac Wilder VerSteeg (nice name, by the way) is to drop the distractions -- vouchers, etc. -- and focus on much needed help, like tutoring, for struggling schools.


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