Sunday, June 19, 2011

NCLB: A False Promise

When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind law ten years ago it was just another example of  a "Mission Accomplished" moment. That is; proclaiming that our government could create educational success for all children by edict just as they thought the U.S. could win a quick, clean victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither goal has been accomplished because they were based on false assumptions and unrealistic expectations.

Education Secretary Duncan is now scrambling around trying to get Congress to revise the NCLB so that it will not continue to punish schools that are addressing the needs of our most at-risk students. More and more schools are failing to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" as the states are required to accelerate school performance toward the elusive goal of proficiency for all by 2014. Such schools are then required to undergo radical restructuring in order to maintain their federal funds. Duncan testified recently before Congress that up to 82% of all public schools could fail to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" this year and would begin to be punished by federal guidelines. It is not clear how Duncan plans to reverse this collision course with insanely unscientific and unrealistic standards, because he has not yet admitted that Congress was wrong.

The same is true at our State Department of Education here in Louisiana. The first Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery District has left the state just in time to avoid taking the blame for numerous unacceptable schools in the RSD. The new Superintendent is continuing to resort to using distorted data to continue to claim success for the RSD. See the recent analysis by Charles Hatfield  of Research on Reforms which shows that such claims are bogus.

BESE has chosen to abdicate its duty to be an independent governing body over education and instead has adopted policies dictated by Superintendent Pastorek to perpetuate the control of RSD over an increasing number of schools. BESE policy now allows charter schools that perform at an acceptable level to remain independent of their original school board as long as they choose to do so. For RSD schools that continue to perform below acceptable levels, the result is basically the same. School boards are now told they will have to apply to BESE to recapture schools that were taken from them but which continue to be classified as "failing".

When the Recovery District was created it was explained to the public that the purpose was to improve struggling schools and return them to the local school systems. Charter schools were supposed to be opportunities to try new approaches to improving schools and then sharing best practices with regular public schools. The RSD and the charter schools were not supposed to be the enemies of local school systems.

Accountability in Louisiana has come down to mindless requirements that force schools to focus most of their energies toward teaching the (LEAP) test. In the social sciences, there is an oft-repeated aphorism called Campbell’s Law, named after Donald Campbell, the psychologist who pioneered the study of human creativity: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In short, incentives corrupt. Daniel Koretz, the Harvard education professor recognized as the country’s leading expert on academic testing, writes in his book Measuring Up that Campbell’s Law is especially applicable to education; there is a preponderance of evidence showing that high-stakes tests lead to a narrowed curriculum, score inflation, and even outright cheating among those tasked with scoring exams.

Diane Ravitch points out in her recent column the following:
The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science just released a major report about the value of test-based accountability and incentives. It appeared right before the Memorial Day weekend. It says that the train is on the wrong track.

The report contains two major conclusions: First, "Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest-achieving countries. When evaluated using relevant low-stakes tests, which are less likely to be inflated by the incentives themselves, the overall effects on achievement tend to be small and are effectively zero for a number of programs."

Referring to No Child Left Behind, now in effect for nine years, the committee held that there were some school-level effects, "but the measured effects to date tend to be concentrated in elementary grade mathematics, and the effects are small compared to the improvements the nation hopes to achieve."

The second major conclusion of the report is that high school exit examinations, as currently implemented in the United States, "decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement."

Why do I say that No Child Left Behind is a false promise? Because as the Louisiana Education system moves to more privatization, more vouchers, letter grading of schools, and Value Added Models of teacher evaluation, the most at-risk students will have less of a chance than ever at closing the gap. The following are happening now:

Charter schools are becoming increasingly exclusive of problem students as is demonstrated by a recent report by Dr Barbara Ferguson of Research on Reforms. Such "undesirable" students are dumped into direct run or regular public schools. Private schools will soon learn to be selective of the best and most motivated students for voucher awards. The most experienced and effective teachers will be pushed out of the most challenging schools by the stigma caused by the new letter grade rating of schools and the VAM evaluation.

The most at risk students will increasingly be left behind in so called failing schools. This is the opposite of what No Child Left Behind was supposed to accomplish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent points, Michael. Thank you for being one of our fiercest advocates. Debbie Meaux