October 9, 2007

Unclean hands

Sometimes I wish journalists followed the same ethical rules as lawyers. We'd get a lot less stories like this NC Times' article Educators say No Child goals 'impossible' to reach.

The article gets a bunch of educators together to make the familiar argument that NCLB's 100% proficiency target is impossible.

"Within two to three years, our school district will be in the headlines for failing," said Kelli Moors, president of the board of Carlsbad Unified School District -- that, with San Dieguito Union High School District and Poway Unified School District, are among the highest performing in the county.

All three say that they have so far met the requirements of federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, but won't for long.

Under the law, every student in every classroom in every state must read and do math at grade level by 2014 as measured by a battery of state tests given each spring to students in grades two through 11.

As Congress considers reauthorizing the landmark legislation, designed to improve teaching and learning across the nation, educators and policymakers across the state say the law should stay -- but it must be revised to make it work.

"There's not a school in our district that will meet that test -- not a school in the nation," said Don Phillips, superintendent of Poway Unified School District.

These educators are trying to get excused from the law, excused from meeting NCLB's 100% proficiency requirement. In the law, we call this kind of argument an appeal to equity.

Basically, these educators want to supplement the strict rules of the NCLB law because its application would operate harshly on them. For example, schools operating at high levels of efficiency, say 90+%, might try to get excused from the 100% requirement because its application would be unduly harsh, i.e., high-performing schools would be labeled as failing schools and would be subject to harsh reforms. These educators what equitable relief from the draconian effect of NCLB. But wait ...

Courts, however, have developed rules as to when a party can argue for equitable relief. One doctrine is the doctrine of unclean hands by which a party asking for equity must come to the court with clean hands, i.e., in good faith and without any wrong doing on their part.

In this case, the educators do not have clean hands. As we find out a few paragraphs later:

To reach that 100 percent target in California, state lawmakers set annual goals for improvement. In 2006-07, one in four students was required to earn a "proficient" score, which means that a student has learned the facts and skills that state officials have set for that grade and age.

But starting in 2008, the annual requirement for improvement will rise 11 percent per year.

"We're hopeful that we'll get over that bar next year, but the year after, I suspect we'll have some schools falling behind." Phillips said. "To have that kind of change in that short of a window is not realistic."

In North Carolina, The current proficiency requirement is 25%. Next year it'll rise to 35%. And, the year after that it'll rise to %45. So, this educator is running a school district that, by his own admission, likely won't be able to exceed a proficiency target between 35% and 45%. That's pathetic.

And, he's moaning about the 100% proficiency target. While, he's missing that target by over 50% and doesn't expect to improve. That strikes me as being somewhat odious.

Update: Eduwonk points out some of the numerous errors in this article. I was originally going to make this a lengthier post and point out some of those errors, but decided on a shorter post instead to highlight this particular sleight of hand. In any event, Eduwonk has the skinny.


CrypticLife said...

I don't know you should blame the journalists. They probably don't know where to look to get the other side.

CrypticLife said...

I retract. Apparently the school in question (Carlsbad) is one of the worst performers in the district, and California is one of the worst in the nation. For journalists not to mention this, even if there are counterarguments, is irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know you should blame the journalists. They probably don't know where to look to get the other side."

Um ... isn't a large part of the job of a responsible/talented journalist knowing where to look to get the other side? I don't need reporters to summarize press releases ...

-Mark Roulo

CrypticLife said...

Yes, Mark, the original comment was intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. It was also before realizing the other side's essentially beating them over the head every day.

Joanne Jacobs said...

All California journalists looking for someone to defend the idea that poor kids can meet standards should know to call Education Trust-West in Oakland.

K9Sasha said...

While I agree it's criminal that only 50% or less of the students are meeting benchmarks, I also think it's absolutely ridiculous to think that 100% can. It sure sounds like a nice goal, doesn't it? But, some of those kids who don't meet benchmarks are in special ed for a good reason - they learn more slowly than other kids. Note I did not say they can't learn, only that they learn more slowly. Even so, slow learning year after year puts those kids behind and they are not going to reach grade level proficiency.

The other kids for whom this is a ridiculous goal are the English language learners. There may be faster and more efficient ways to teach English than what's being used, but face it, any child in the US less than a year or two is not going to understand English well enough to reach grade level proficiency. Have you ever taken a foreign language? How long did it take you to become fluent? How long does it take a child to become fluent in his native language? Three years? Four?

KDeRosa said...

As I pointed out here, there is a very good reason for that 100% target.

And, of course with so many exceptions, loopholes, ridiculously low cut scores, and low standards that 100% target is much less than a real 100% target in reality.

Having said that, however, I agree that 100% is not a realistic target. The question is what is a realistic target and id that number is less than 95% or so are you willing to accept a large achievement gap?

Anonymous said...

There's always going to be an achievement gap, though, unless we eradicate all distinction between Proficient and Advanced.

So even if we lower the standards to assure 100% proficiency, the data would show that whites and asians are overwhelmingly advanced, and blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately proficient. (again, this assumes an easy test)

The problem, of course, is that we can't gut it up and accept the achievement gap. Without tiered results that have meaningful consequences to students, though, there's no way to move on from there.

KDeRosa said...

Cal, right now the advanced level isn't used for anything, it just has to be reported. See this post for how NCLB defines the achievement gap.

PaulaV said...

My district in Virginia touts its "progressive" curriculum, yet more schools were added to the list that did not make AYP due to ELL students. I see this list growing year by year.

How is balanced literacy going to help ELL students when it doesn't help those who can speak English? It hasn't helped the poor, the middle class, the upper middle class, whatever socioeconomic group you belong to, it just hasn't worked for some of these kids.

It makes me furious to hear administrators scream about how unfair NCLB is when they continue to use discovery learning and other holistic approaches as a basis for curriculum choices.

CrypticLife said...

Realistically, there will always be a gap, even if it's hidden by masking performance distinctions on the tests. If "advanced" is a raw score of 90% correct, then the high-SES population is likely to average out higher within that group than the lower-SES population.

I agree, Cal, that the fact a gap exists should be accepted, and we shouldn't try to hide from the knowledge of it. Really, teaching standards should be brought up as much as possible. Someone on a board somewhere (I forget where) said NCLB had it in reverse: that it's the teachers who should be tested, not the kids. I agree with this, but only once we agree on the definition of good teaching.