April 18, 2006
You Bet

The central fallacy of the Republicans’ No Child Left Behind Act is that the math doesn’t add up: there is no way that “all” students can perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014, any more than it would make sense to require that “all” students be of at least average height for their age by 2014.

The literal mathematical impossibility of the NCLB goals of course will cause school districts to lie to meet these goals, and indeed the inevitable cooking of figures has now begun in earnest:

With the federal government’s permission, schools aren’t counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students when they report progress by racial groups, an Associated Press computer analysis found.

Minorities — who historically haven’t fared as well as whites in testing — make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded, the AP found. And the numbers have been rising. …

Schools receiving federal aid also must demonstrate annually that students in all racial categories are progressing or risk penalties that include extending the school year, changing curriculum or firing administrators and teachers.

The U.S. Education Department said it didn’t know the breadth of schools’ deliberate undercounting until seeing AP’s findings.

“Is it too many? You bet,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in an interview. “Are there things we need to do to look at that, batten down the hatches, make sure those kids are part of the system? You bet.”

There are many human tragedies that will be caused by NCLB, including the hiding of non-white children in statistical attics such as the Associated Press discovered. But in addition to the personal tragedies, one little-noticed but important blow against good government that the Act is causing is the institutionalization of lying by local schools and governments in order to appear to be on track to meet the ridiculous and unattainable goal of universal proficiency. This will inject a feeling of cynicism and hopelessness and shame about the government at the lowest and in many ways the most important and largest level of government: the local, often volunteer-run, town and school governments.

It is shameful that the Republicans are forcing local volunteers and officials to conceal and mislead in this way; these people signed on to help their communities, not to lie to the public and the federal government. I certainly understand that misleading and concealment is a central tenet of the governing philosophy of the president and the congressional Republicans who crafted this bill, and that for this reason most of them gave no second thoughts to this aspect of the system they created. I also understand that a perceptive drown-government-in-the-bathtub minority precisely understood the corrosive effect NCLB would have on local government and school boards, but regarded this as a plus, not a minus. But just because the Republicans in Washington either don’t understand or don’t agree that it is not a good idea to turn local government officials into liars doesn’t make it right.

This of course is not, as our misleaders would have it, a choice between testing and not testing our children (and our school systems). The problem is that the benchmarks are dishonest and calculated to destroy, not repair, the public education system in the United States.

The Democrats need to stand up on this issue, and point out that passing a law saying that all children will be above average in math and reading by 2014 won’t make it so. We need a law that helps children who are below average, not a law that makes it illegal for children to be below average.


Posted by Wayne Uff at April 18, 2006 06:09 AM
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What I hear from teacher friends is that testing and preparing for tests takes so much of the school year that there is less and less time to actually teach, and the teaching they do has to dwell on what will be tested, not on actually useful topics, like critical thinking.

What I hear from school board friends is that paying an enhanced bureaucracy to schedule, administer, report, etc., all these tests and results is gobbling up local taxes, which makes it impossible to pay for the remedies NCLB requires from low-scoring schools without raising taxes, let alone cutting class sizes and other benefits the board would like to confer.

At the paid Republican politician level, it's all "we want to cut your property taxes" (which fund schools), which would make the responsibilities of the school boards and teachers impossible to fulfill.

My conclusion? The Republican end game is to do away with public schools altogether.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 18, 2006 10:48 AM

Yes---Eliminate public schools: 1) Public schools are non-religious: 2) Divide/suppress the populace.

Posted by: Hoffmann on April 18, 2006 11:39 AM

I think I have something to contribute here.

Teaching the test is a distinct problem, one that has bothered many educators. A larger problem is the incentive to concentrate on the ones whose exam results will be use at the expense of the minorities.

Posted by: spiiderweb on April 18, 2006 12:47 PM

I actually have no objection to "teaching to the test."

Take your favorite golden age of education, be it 18th century America, or the classical Chinese period. There was a test or a series of tests. There always is.

The issue is to make sure that it is the right test.

And is the agenda here to hurt and dismantle America's remarkable three-century commitment to free and universal public education? Of course it is.

Posted by: wayne uff on April 18, 2006 11:12 PM

This is actually old news.

True story: I was working as a computer consultant and one of our clients was a small rural school district. They were required to transmit student data to the state twice per year -- once in November, and once in June.

So it's the day before the report is due to the state, and I'm there helping the guy who was charged with doing this, who was also responsible for the busses, for student discipline, and a jillion other unfunded mandates, and we run a report that compares current-year enrollment with previous-year enrollment. About 100 students pop out as unaccounted-for. I.e., they'd "disappeared" between the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

He ponders. "What do I do with these?" he asked. I told him, "You need to find out where they went and put an exit code in. Did they get a GED? did they transfer to another school district? Did they drop out? Did they transfer out of state?"

He said, "What happens if I don't do anything."

"They'll count as dropouts."

"Shit, we already have too many dropouts. It makes our schools look bad. What happens if I say they all transferred out of state?"

"They don't count as dropouts."

Well, you know what he did next...

Point: I don't trust any statistics coming out of our schools on *anything*. I counted how many 8th graders were in this guy's schools. I counted how many 12th graders were in this guy's schools. There was half as many 12th graders as 8th graders. This guy had a 50% dropout rate. The "official" dropout rate, though, was less than 5%.

This was over 10 years ago. I doubt it's any different today.

-BadTux the Former School Penguin

Posted by: BadTux on April 19, 2006 2:42 PM
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