It was assumed that relatively low academic performance by some children was due primarily to lazy, inadequate or incompetent instruction by teachers and administrators. All that was needed therefore was to threaten severe punishment of schools that failed to produce above average results in all students, and to mandate remedial after school programs often provided by outside contractors. If those measures did not work, the federal and state governments would mandate school reorganizations, closures or conversion to charter schools.
The theory was that such no-nonsense measures would within the ten-year time limit produce grade level or better performance by all students even including students with disabilities and students with little or no school support system in their homes and communities. Many skeptical educators sometimes referred to this as the Lake Wobegon Effect. This analogy was based on a fictional Minnesota town named Lake Wobegon, "Where all women are strong, all men are good looking, and all children are above average." The No Child Left Behind law assumed that all children could perform at average or above levels, and if that did not happen within the ten year time limit, the educators would have hell to pay and may even have to forfeit their schools and allow someone else to take over!
This time, in addition to closing or taking over schools, the reforms would focus on implementing teacher and administrator evaluation systems based on student test scores. These new measures would result in the retraining or firing of teachers and administrators who failed or at least ranked lowest on an arbitrary performance ranking system. The way this theory was applied in Louisiana is that the state education bureaucracy would each year designate the bottom 10% of teachers as "ineffective" based on student value added (VAM) scores and immediately begin efforts to retrain or remove any such teachers. Administrators in low performing schools would also be punished or removed.
The theory was that at some point such a system would purge enough of the bad teachers and administrators that student performance would magically rise to the Lake Wobegon standards. So the Obama solution was based on the same myth as the George W. Bush solution! As soon as it began, this new reform started to fail, because it became apparent immediately that the system often identified the wrong teachers as “ineffective” and many of the most respected teachers and administrators chose to retire early to avoid the humiliation of the VAM (Value Added Model) and the COMPASS evaluation system. Fortunately for the reformers, they had already put into motion a whole new miracle plan for finally producing above average achievement by all students.
Myth #2: The Quality of the Teacher is the Primary Determinant of a Child's Academic Success
The American Statistical Association has determined that the typical teacher has an influence of between 1 and 14% of a student's academic success. Innate abilities, parental support, health, nutrition, and many other factors are much more influential on a child's success in school than the quality of the teacher. Certainly we want all children to have the benefit of the best, most dedicated teachers possible, but it is foolish to expect teachers to overcome all of the handicaps of children in our neglectful society today.
Myth #4: The Common Core Standards Are Separate From the Curriculum
Common Core advocates tell us that the Common Core State Standards are not the same as a curriculum and do not dictate what curriculum teachers should use in their day-to-day teaching. Many legal experts believe that this claim was made mainly to avoid the charge that the federal government is dictating curriculum. Louisiana teachers teaching the basic skills subjects of English-language arts or math, have no doubt however, that the Common Core aligned tests are the curriculum!
Myth #5: All Students Can Be Induced to Perform to Higher Standards by Simply Raising the Standards Bar.
The Texas state education department has been “raising the bar” for a little longer than Louisiana, and recent results seem to indicate that their students are “hitting the wall” on academic performance. More and more leaders in Texas are beginning to call for a pull back of the test based standards. Students in New York State have started their Common Core testing two years ahead of Louisiana and have experienced a 70% failure rate. Education officials there are still predicting that soon many more students will start clearing the higher bar.
There is a huge variation in the natural physical ability of students and this variation is greatly exaggerated by the neglect our society allows in the physical development of our children.
To put it in the blunt terms expressed by Mark Twain: “Tis sad but true that half the American people are below average”. Four year colleges are not inclined to accept and cope with students who perform below the academic average. We may not like it, but that’s a fact of human nature. Fortunately, our students are blessed with many other natural skills, interests, and talents that could allow them to succeed and be fulfilled by many careers that do not require 4 year degrees. Unfortunately, our insane quest to standardize children into academic elites has resulted in neglect in preparing students for the arts, the skilled trades and high level service occupations that benefit greatly from these other less appreciated talents and interests of our children.