Thursday, May 19, 2005

On the Civil Rights Project study

A superbly written editorial (reg. req'd, go to bugmenot) appears in tomorrow's Atlanta Journal Constitution. The thesis: The real education crisis in America is high dropout rates, not low test scores. As an example, the authors cite a statistic from a newly released study by Harvard's Civil Rights Project. In five southern states, the average graduation rate among minority males is 41%. Three out of five black and Hispanic males don't get a high school diploma. That, my friends, is a crisis.

And therein lies the fraud of No Child Left Behind. Lots of children are being left behind. More, in fact, now that the testing regime is nearly fully in place. Coming up with a catchy phrase to mask an education agenda that misses the point completely won't cut it: People are fooled for awhile -- dazzled by the idea that no child will be left behind -- but soon enough they realize they've been duped.

What really needs to be done? Here's the key paragraph from the editorial:

It is not sufficient to ratchet up the rhetoric about standards and impose yet more tests on students... Rather, we have to consider investing real resources in the programs and services that research shows us are effective in engaging students — such as creating smaller classes where teachers and students can develop close relationships; training and keeping strong teachers, particularly in low-performing schools; developing ninth-grade transition programs for at-risk students; increasing the counseling services available to students in schools; developing challenging, innovative curricula that will make students want to come to school each day.

Real resources. Smaller classes. Close relationships. Challenging, innovative curricula.

Should we still have testing? Sure. Of course. But testing alone -- without a concerted effort to increase graduation rates -- simply won't get it done.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

High schools in the news

Governors Tom Villsack of Iowa and Mitt Romney testified yesterday before the House Education Committee. From the AP report in the Guardian:

Efforts to improve the nation's high schools should focus on voluntary programs rather than on expanding education legislation passed during President Bush's first term, members of a congressional committee suggested Tuesday.

Bush wants to expand required testing in high schools as a way to measure whether student performance is improving.

Members of the House Education and Workforce Committee questioned whether the timing was right to expand the No Child Left Behind law, even as they acknowledged that American high schools are not keeping pace with other countries and that many students leave school unprepared.

``I'm not sure we're ready to require states to do more under No Child Left Behind at a time when some are still seeking, unfortunately, to do less,'' said committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio.

...``We would do well to defer to what the governors are doing,'' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., adding that to force states to meet new requirements for high school without providing sufficient resources would mean ``big time trouble.''

So there appears to be bipartisan opposition to the expansion of NCLB.

In a statement following the Governors' appearances, Rep. Miller cited numerous statistics to point out the problems with American high schools. But it wasn't until the end that he mentioned the astonishingly high dropout rates, which, since the advent of NCLB, have gone up. It's not a coincidence. And they'll go up further if the president has his way and vocational ed programs are cut.

Testing is fine. It's necessary and can give teachers lots of information to inform their practice. But if test scores are the goal, the kids will leave. We've seen it and we'll continue to see it. And you know what'll happen? Test scores will go up. The papers will trumpet the success of schools, but it'll be a hollow triumph if nearly half of our country's teenagers aren't even in school to be tested.
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