September 22, 2006

Zealous Idiocy

Leave it to a lawyer to pack an article with so many bad arguments that it's about to burst. Surely, the author, Danielle Holley-Walker, has set some kind of record with this article on on the supposed alarming developments in the NCLB act.

At first I thought this article was written by a law student and I was going to introduce it by telling you to pity me because this is the kind of recent law school grad I have to train on a regular basis. Seven years of college and they still can't argue their way out of a paper bag. But, as it turns out, Ms. Holley-Walker is actually an Assistant Professor of Law. Oh, heavens.

In any event, Professor Holley-Walker doesn't like NCLB. More importantly, she has scoured the internet and has managed to find every single criticism of NCLB, no mater how loopy and has thrown it all against the wall in the hope that some will stick. I don't remember learning that in law school.

It's going to get messy, but let's take our rhetorical power-washers out and get to it.

Probably the most alarming development under NCLB is the number of schools that are being designated as in need of "restructuring," which could lead to massive school closures.


Because this is the fifth year after NCLB's passage, we are beginning to see schools receive the restructuring designation. As of 2006, some reports estimate that there are already 2,000 schools designated as failing. In some cities, such as Chicago, one-third of all public schools are being designated as in need of restructuring. Some experts predict that in the next five years the number of restructuring schools may swell to as many as 10,000. In short, NCLB has the potential to put our public schools into a state of chaos and crisis.
Someone needs to explain to me again how forcing kids to go to a failing school is in any way a good thing. I'm certain that if the good professor had a life threatening illness and the government forced ther to go to the closest doctor's office that was only able to cure 20% of its patients, she'd be singing a different tune.

And, it's not as if there wasn't a way for these failing schools to avoid the chopping block by actually--wait for it-- improving.

These statistics raise a number of serious questions. First, what will states do to respond to the increasing numbers of schools being labeled as in need of restructuring? Some educational policy experts worry that one response will be to actually lower academic grade-level standards, making it easier for students to meet the standards. Prior to NCLB's enactment, almost every state already had its own set of academic standards for each grade level, but the harsh accountability requirements of NCLB may cause states to turn away from the highest standards in order to avoid the consequences of failing schools.

This seems more like an argument for toughening up NCLB instead of getting rid of it.

The good professor seems to forget that the predecessor to NCLB required complaince also, but the states were ignoring the compliance portions. The state's figured that the Feds would just shovel money to them forever and all they had to do was spend it without caring about student achievement. NCLB was the newspaper swat on the nose and it clearly still stings.

Next, where will all the students go whose schools are restructured?

Er, someplace better, hopefully?

The act allows students to transfer to other public schools. For some high achieving public schools that may mean the absorption of students from failing schools. But will those schools have the staff and the capability to manage the influx? Or will the migrations start those schools down the path to possible restructuring status as well?

I thought these were going to be serious questions. NCLB has requires schools to disaggregate their data and doesn't permit schools to shield their minority and low-SES kids from NCLB's accountability provisions. Eventually, NCLB will catch up with every school. (The bdirty little secret is that even high performing schools do a miserable jon with low SES and minority kids.) The only way to avoid NCLB is to improve and teach all every kid. That's a good thing.

Also, when a student is attending a failing neighborhood school, the student's only choice for transfer may be outside of their neighborhood. This possible move away from local neighborhood schools would defeat current attempts by parents and school officials to increase parental involvement in their children's education by promoting neighborhood schools.

Oh, the horror. I'm thinking if parental involvement, to the extent it even exists, hasn't compensated for the failing school so far, it's foolish to think it'll work in the future. And why can't the parents still be involved in a different school? Is there some law against it?

Another alternative for students in restructuring schools is to transfer to charter schools. If they do that, they leave the public school system for the privately run schools.

I knew Marx would rear his ugly head sooner or later. Also, if you insert "failing" between "the" and "public" it starts to sound like a good alternative.

However, the alternative of charter schools might actually be worse for those students, as recent studies by the federal government show that fourth grade students in charter schools are not performing as well as public school students. Essentially, charter schools may provide an ineffective alternative for students fleeing from a failing school.

This reminds me of this exchange fromthe movie Dumb and Dumber:

Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?
Mary: Well, that's pretty difficult to say.
Lloyd: Hit me with it! I've come a long way to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I'd say more like one out of a million.
Lloyd: So you're telling me there's a chance.
The point being that even a slim chance is better than no chance.

Oh, and that study she's referring to doesn't exactly say what she thinks it says.

Beyond the possible dire consequences for schools and students in the aftermath of NCLB's passage, we are also seeing the questionable effects of the statute's methods of measuring achievement on school curriculums. NCLB depends on yearly testing to evaluate students, and because of the high stakes of that testing, more schools are emphasizing reading, math and science -- to the detriment of other subjects, such as history, art, music and physical education. American public school students already lag behind students in other countries concerning knowledge of geography and world history. There are also increasing cries by public health experts that less physical education may be exacerbating the problem of childhood obesity.

This is the second time the professor kicked the ball in for the other side. This is an argument for making NCLB more inclusive, not less. In any event, math and reading are being emphasized because they are more important than the other subjects. Moreover, a school's inability to teach math, reading, and science efficiently so it doesn't adversely affect other subjects is merely further evidence that the school is failing at its primary role of education.

The statute has a laudable goal of improving academic achievement for all students regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity. And there has been some average national increase in math and reading scores since the act took effect. Despite NCLB's good intent, the statute's actual effects on public schools seem to be detrimental, with the potential to become devastating.

That's a feature, not a bug.

The NCLB comes up for renewal in 2007, so it is not too early for Congress to evaluate the law's results so far. Congress should reconsider the "testocracy" that the statute has set up to measure student achievement, which is directly impacting what is taught in classes. Testing is only one method of measuring a student's progress. Schools that can include other factors, such as a student's grades

grade inflation and subjective

and individual teacher evaluations,


into an assessment of a child's proficiency may feel less of a need to value NCLB test results unduly, above other important
though subjective and prone to abuse

measures of progress.

Also, Congress should re-evaluate the NCLB accountability requirements that focus on transferring students and reassigning personnel. Perhaps the the law should be modified to encourage states to reform failing schools from within.

That's exactly what it's doing already. Reform by 2014 or else. That seems like a powerful incentive to me. One that is sufficiently powerful to cause an public-school apologist law professor to write a lengthy opinion piece.

More aggressive steps can and should be taken to preserve the already existing school.

The only ones in danger of not being preswerved are the failing ones. I'm feeling less worked up already.

An increase in funding for more teacher training and after-school educational support services is one such option.

More money.

The federal government should also allocate funds for studying the actual effect of increased testing in schools, in order to make a better-informed decision about whether the statute's emphasis on standards and testing actually improves achievement levels.

More money.

Finally, funding should be preserved for states to implement more early pre-kindergarten education programs, such as Head Start.

Even more money. That's always worked wonders in the past. I actually had to go back andlook at the picture they ran of the professor to see if I could see an NEA thug holding a gun to her head after reading that last paragraph.

Unfortunately, Congress's proposed budget for this year actually includes cuts to federal support for public education.

An oldie but a goodie. Listen, Professor, cutting the rate of projected growth is not the same thing as actually cutting funding. It's easy to keep straight. Next year more will be spent on education than last year. That's all you have to know.

With NCLB the federal government took on the daunting task of increasing student achievement. While the law has wrought change, the ongoing question is whether this or other federal government initiatives are effective in assisting schools in the day-to-day struggle to improve a child's reading level, math skills and scientific knowledge. Thus far, NCLB has provided more questions than answers, and it is up to Congress to take the next step.

No, it's up to schools to take the next step.


Anonymous said...

Someone needs to explain to me again how forcing kids to go to a failing school is in any way a bad thing.

I'm reasonably certain you omitted a word in that sentence.


KDeRosa said...

Oops. Fixed