Thursday, June 07, 2007

Exit Strategies: Finding the way out of Iraq and NCLB

School is out. I am done with my one credit art class and I am hoping to do a lot more posting from here on out. Thanks to all of you who have been visiting and reading, even though my posting has been sporadic this last year.

The above article appears in this month Rethinking Schools. I believe it is one of the most important articles I have run across in a long time. Read it! A quick excerpt from a very long article:

...speaking to an audience of teachers in New Hampshire last March, Clinton passionately bashed NCLB. "While the children are getting good at filling in all those little bubbles, what exactly are they really learning?" she asked. "How much creativity are we losing? How much of our children's passion is being killed?" She also denounced NCLB's supplemental tutoring sanctions which funnel federal funds to largely unregulated private providers, declaring, "This is Halliburton all over again ...We have these contracts going to these cronies who are chosen largely on a political basis, and we have nothing to show for it."

Tough words. But Clinton voted for the law in 2001. In fact she helped lay the groundwork for it by supporting two decades of summits and business roundtables that enshrined top-down standards and tests as the keys to school improvement. Clinton has blamed all NCLB's failures on mismanagement and underfunding from the Bush Administration, but when not on the stump, she admits she'll vote for reauthorizing it with vague allusion to unspecified "improvements." Maybe Clinton still thinks it "takes a village to raise a child," but so far she's mainly voted for giving them tests.

Similarly, Obama tells his audiences, "No Child Left Behind left the money behind." But he also talks about "the things that were good about No Child Left Behind," like high standards "because U.S. children will have to compete for jobs with students from countries with more rigorous schools." Obama has flirted with vouchers ("I am not close-minded on this issue.") and merit pay, declaring teachers have "got to get more pay, but there's also going to be more accountability...the accountability can't just be based on standardized test performance only, but that has to be part of the mix..."

This is not to minimize the very real differences that are certain to emerge among parties and candidates over education issues including college aid, vouchers, federal funding levels, and other matters. But the overwhelming federal education issue is NCLB and the test-and-punish regime it's imposing from Washington on every school and district in the country. The heart of any "peace proposal" to end this "war on the public schools" must be an end to the federal mandate to test every student every year in every grade from 3 to 8 and once in high school. But so far the presidential candidates don't seem to get it.

NCLB's "escalation" of testing has forced schools to give some 65 million mandated tests on top of the millions they were already giving. When the law was passed in 2002, 19 states gave annual reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8. Today, under federal mandate, all 50 do. Thanks to NCLB, a large, diverse K-8 school now has 240 ways to fail every year. (The number will rise if a proposal to count the new science tests passes.[1])

The tests themselves have become a major obstacle to improving struggling schools. They are not providing useful data for better instruction; they are providing junk data for bad policy or telling us what we already know: that public schools are swamped by the same inequality that exists all around them. Testing every kid every year and measuring the results against benchmarks that no real schools have ever met is not an "accountability" system. It's an enabling instrument for imposing privatizing sanctions and pushing more democratic and promising school improvement strategies to the sidelines. One activist compared NCLB's out-of-control testing plague to the difference between giving a patient a blood test and draining the patient's blood.

If the real goal was tracking the limited range of achievement progress that standardized tests can capture and spotlighting gaps among student groups, states could develop variations of the sampling techniques the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has used for years. (In fact Maryland did this until NCLB's testing requirements killed it.) Often called the "nation's report card," NAEP provides comparative data about schools and groups across states and grade levels without testing every student every year. And while there are limits and problems with NAEP, as there are with all standardized tests, the use of sampling and restrictions on using the data to impose high stakes penalties on individual students and schools suggest ways to avoid the suffocating nightmare that NCLB's adequate yearly progress system has become. (In contrast, there are those who would like to make NAEP a universal national test tied to national curriculum standards, part of what education reporter John Merrow calls a "surge strategy for NCLB" recommended by Republican candidate and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson among others.)

Rolling back NCLB's testing mandates and ending the link between test scores and punitive sanctions are the minimum but mandatory exit strategies for getting out of the NCLB mess. Yet Clinton and Obama have had little specific to say about these crucial details, even though they're both on the Senate Education Committee that's handling NCLB's reauthorization. (So far neither has responded publicly to a February letter sent by ten Democratic Senators to Education Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy declaring that, "We have concluded that the testing mandates of No Child Left Behind in their current form are unsustainable and must be overhauled significantly during the reauthorization process beginning this year." (Obama signed a similar letter in 2006.)

To be sure, other strategies will be needed to tackle the very real problems of struggling schools that NCLB has ignored or made worse. (For some specifics, see the recommendations from the Forum On Educational Accountability.) But as with Iraq, the first step toward a saner policy on NCLB is for would-be leaders to listen to the growing grassroots chorus calling on them to reverse the failing policies that helped create the mess we're in.


Anonymous said...

One item your blog fails to mention is that there is a presidential candidate that voted against NCLB and warned of exactly the problems it created - Ron Paul was that man and you would do yourself a great service to read the speech his statement on NCLB.

Jered Talbot

Sean Black said...

Clinton is not a friend to public education from what I see so far. I too am a teacher and NCLB needs to go. There is a letter on the following website from Mark Tucker to the Clintons. Check it out:

Also, on my own blog you can see letters I have sent to some politicians.

Kriste said...

I just found your blog while looking for anti NCLB sites.
I too think it has to go. While a good idea to hold our schools accountable, we are forgetting what this is doing to the children.
As I went to the back to school night and the teachers went over their lessons plans, all I heard over and over, is this will be on the tests, this will be on the tests.
There is so much stress put on doing well on this test. So many unrealistic benchmarks that your child must meet or he/she is not performing to standards.
When are we going to stop learning to take a test well and just start fostering learning in our children.

Proyecto San Telmo de TeologĂ­a y Cultura said...

I also believe in public education.
Your blog is very interesting.
I'm a teacher too.
Best wishes from Buenos Aires.
Spanish Teacher.
Argentina. said...

Hi Jack,

I just wanted to make sure that you were invited to our education "Blogger Summit". We hope you can make it and feel free to share this invitation with any other bloggers in the area that might be interested. The invitation is attached below.

ED In '08 Blogger Summit


Strong American Schools is excited to announce the ED in '08 Blogger Summit. Conference details are as follows:

May 14th - 15th
Palomar Hotel, Washington DC
Registration is Free!

An opening reception is scheduled on the evening of Wednesday, May 14th. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres will be served before the screening of a new documentary film on education, Two Million Minutes. A Q&A session with the filmmakers is set to follow.

Then join us for an all-day conference on May 15th. Nowhere else will you have an opportunity to meet and network with fellow education bloggers, participate in panels, attend workshops, and help tackle some tough questions on the state of education in America.

Space is limited, so be sure to RSVP today!

Register at

Maxwell GS said...

I love your blog. I found it while searching for blogs containing information about the NCLB Act. I was hoping to find blogs like this, actively against the act.

I'm a student. Had the NCLB Act not been failing me, I'd not be here right now.

I'm not just going to sit around, sliding through the atrocious policies of my government. I haven't been.

I am not enrolled in a traditional education system right now. I have tried that. I'm 16 years old, I've only lived in two cities, but I've been to about 10 schools -- or twelve when homeschooling and kindergarten are included. And, if you include my current situation, I have been to 13 completely different schools. I would be a junior in high school right now, but for many reasons -- almost all of them directly or indirectly related to the NCLB Act or other poor governing of the nation's schools -- I had to enroll in MATC (Madison Area Technical College) which is a nearby community college. After all these years, this is finally a tolerable solution where I'm in a comfortable situation where I feel it is safe for me to actually learn things.

I highly disagree with the lazy and disastrous political philosophy that the people must fend for themselves. People argue that when the government becomes involved, the government is interfering with our freedom. My argument: people chose to govern their freedom. Without order, there is chaos. Holding schools accountable is different from ignoring them and telling them to solve their own problems. The schools have tried, but have been neglected resources too long. Schools and districts cannot prevail through the struggles they face without serious attention and aid from the government. We pay our taxes, it is spent on mindless nonsense like the war on Iraq which was a mistake to begin with. What do our schools get? A fraction of what is required in order to responsibly educate the youth in the United States. If anything, that's how much the schools get. All I hear is "budget cuts" when I question my schools. The government can't tell us to solve our own problems while they're making it impossible for us to do it. This has to stop!

I believe in public education, but not whatever kind of education they say is in the schools here.

-- Maxwell GS

E.A. Shawhan said...

There is a definite crisis in our school systems today. I've been researching different districts and so far there hasn't been any comment on the overall effect it has on the students. Most adults are found complaining about what they don't have and can't get, but what is this doing for morale, curriculum, and overall learning environment for our kids? In Southern California we are having some issues with ESL kids being held at the same standard as native speakers, which is an unrealistic standard for our students. It should be about learning material prevalent to their levels of comprehension, which should be left up to the individual schools. I will be posing more on this site. It's a great place to discuss.

Audra said...

Hi, I'm a teacher and I am about to lose my job to NCLB. Thank you for having this blog, please continue it. I haven't read all of it but wanted you to know that in Arkansas the line for proficient is re-normed at least every 2 years so that only 50% of students should be above it. 70% of my not Pre-Ap/some SPED kids managed to get better than half the kids did the year before so I failed and am suffering for it. I need people who are fighting this.