NCLB Blogging

It's been a while since I've posted here (and blogged in general) as I've been tied up with some other project related to education reform.

With No Child Left Behind coming up for renewal, I want to look at an aspect of it that has some rather important implications on the future of American politics, and in particular our efforts to build a progressive majority.

Aside from the usual "they left the money behind for NCLB" criticism, there is another area where NCLB and our education system in general, are failing. While legislation like NCLB and the typical policy prescriptions to fix our education system place emphasis on standardized testing and assessment, there are areas of the student and our educational goals that are often left unaddressed. To be explicit, aside from the hard skills that students must be equipped with to compete in the global economy, how are we preparing them to make our democracy healthier?.  While we remain committed to creating fitter, happier, more productive workers, what kind of citizens are leaving our public schools?

These questions are of particular importance to progressives and Democrats, because it is our constituencies (the poor, minorities, etc) that are most affected by the pedagogies that arise out of NCLB-esque thinking. It's what Martin Haberman calls the pedagogy of poverty.  That is, the way students in inner city schools and increasingly throughout the country are taught isn't at all about accomplishing the goal of creating a healthy, critical, and engaged citizenry. Instead it's a system designed around achievement tests, that force teachers to do less good teaching-- social, emotional, civic, and physical development--and restricts them to crude directives like "I am a math teacher", "I'm a social studies teacher". Instead of being about inquiry, teaching becomes about controlling students and "making them learn", when, in truth, education is about so much more than the mastery of the limited skills needed to succeed on a standardized test. It's overlooked that education is about building a whole person, someone who has the skills to contribute to the economy, but also someone who knows how to among other things, take care of their body, and contribute to their community.

Getting back to how this affects the creation of a progressive majority in this country, it's important to understand that there can be no progressive majority without a healthy citizenry . That is, Americans that aren't taught at an early age how to think critically, don't understand how to cause change in their communities, and feel no sense of civic responsibility, will be apathetic towards politics and will not be change agents --the antithesis of what a progressive America will need. Moreover, citizens like that are most often the victims of the politics of fear and disinformation.

Looking at Chris Dodd's national service plan, I like where he's going. But any plan to address the decline in civic engagement has to be addressed often and early through our education system and in our homes. Part of that starts with a rethinking of what the purpose of education is and what our educational goals are beyond achievement tests. Our current thinking yields a system that not only fails to reach its stated goals and benchmarks, but is also in many ways harmful to the students it seeks to help. Yet, the response is to offer more of the same. More standards, more tests. If you're a Democrat, you perhaps offer more money for schools and better teacher pay, which is good. However, without recognizing how our approach has affected teaching or reassessing the goals of education, more money is exceedingly silly . As progressives, our aims in education should be guided by and centered on efforts to build the citizenry that will make up a progressive majority. American democracy is dependant on the creation of a freethinking, civically engaged, and economically competitive people.

Tags: Education, NCLB (all tags)



Re: NCLB Blogging

I am responding in opposition to your statement that "educational system, in general, is failing", and thus, I am suggesting that you should take a gander at Judge Alex Kozinski's legal opinion relative to the Court of Appeals decision in the recently overturned decision with respect to "voluntary" desgregation in our public schools.

Moreover, having the parents travel the distance of one and one-half hours to comply with a local "voluntary" desgration plan was outrageous.  To wit, there were empty chairs in the classrom available, the thusly, the application of Common Sense was egregiously absent by the affected school board and their administrators.

However, I do agree that teaching and testing to academic standards does have its faults, but not the the extent that our public schools are failing, generally-speaking.

And yet, to equate all the "problems" to the primary and secondary schools, is really missing the point.  To create intelligent and rational adults requires that we, as a society, reach beyond what is currently available, and establish educational vehicles that reach into adulthood, and perhaps, comparable to Dodd's, "national service".  As such, Dodd's notional is at best, a canard.  To wit, we should reach back into history and if so, we will find that a military draft, effectively established the middle class as the Middle Class.  And that is what is needed.

Consequently, I have long advocated an Academic-Military Draft in which America's young, either high school graduates or high school dropouts, can achieve a quality education without having to inflict an onerous financial burden on their parents for this educational cost.

Of course, after you have read Judge Kozinski's legal opinion, I am prepared to further pursue this discussion.



by Jaango 2007-07-08 07:46AM | 0 recs
I haven't read that judge's opinion

But reading the Des Moines Register's coverage of the recent Supreme Court ruling, I was struck by some comments of black parents and advocates who welcomed the ruling. Some parents were relieved that their kids will no longer be bused across town to help increase diversity at mostly-white schools. Here is the link: cs.dll/article?AID=200770629002

Here were some of the comments that caught my attention:

   Des Moines parent Evelyn Garrison, who is a black Latina, welcomed the ruling. She had wanted her children to attend King Elementary School, which is close to where she works. School officials told Garrison they could not accept any more minority students because the percentage of minorities attending the school exceeded district guidelines.

   Garrison said she dug up her great-grandmother's Irish heritage and classified her children as white to get them into King.

   "How can we have schools that are all white, and they don't say they can't take any more white students, but schools can say they have too many black students there? What's the difference?" Garrison said.

And this one:

   Activist Mary Ann Spicer, president of Sisters On Target, a political action alliance for African-American women, said re-examination of desegregation plans was overdue.

   "It is a mockery in justice when you have a neighborhood that is predominantly one race and everybody has to be bused across town to satisfy a desegregation plan," Spicer said. "Fifty years ago, I didn't feel this way. We had things to work on to achieve justice. But parents have the right and should have a choice."

by desmoinesdem 2007-07-08 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: NCLB Blogging

Great post.  What education projects are you working on?


by jrub 2007-07-08 07:51AM | 0 recs
Re: NCLB Blogging

I had the opportunity to be on a planning team for NYC public school. We got approved in the winter, and have been preparing to open up in the fall, with our first class of 6th and 9th graders. Our school is part of the small school reform movement that has been under way in NYC for quite some time. It's really be powerful experience, and I cant wait to see the kids in the fall.

by Jared Roebuck 2007-07-08 10:27AM | 0 recs
teachers dislike NCLB

A couple of months ago I was talking to someone whose wife is a teacher. They've been going to see various candidate events in Iowa. They were disappointed at an Obama town hall meeting when he was asked about NCLB and basically said, this is an unfunded mandate and we need to fully fund the program.

They were more impressed by Biden at one of his town-hall meetings. Asked a similar question, Biden attacked the whole premise of NCLB. His wife is a teacher in the Delaware schools, so he may have a better sense of what the testing mania is doing to harm public education.

by desmoinesdem 2007-07-08 07:55AM | 0 recs
One problem

Devils' advocate:

Testing is reassurance for the uninformed. They may not understand the basis of the testing - but they figure that, if there's testing going on, the chances of their tax dollars going to waste is less than they would otherwise be.

Plus - less testing is a return to doctor knows best: a reduction in accountability of professionals to the folks they serve.

Plus - the NEA is a Democratic pet: teachers using their political influence to get an easier ride.

Plus - what are they going to use all this freed-up time for? Civics? Lefty teachers indoctrinating kids with socialism and atheism!


Tricky stuff.

by skeptic06 2007-07-08 08:05AM | 0 recs
Re: NCLB Blogging

Good post. But I think it misses the point of NCLB. Like virtually all Bush initiatives, regardless of the possible validity of the stated premises, the majority of resources go to steering funds towards the best and most deserving. By definition, these are their close friends and contributors, such as brother Jeb and family friend McGraw. The method is to declare schools as failures, and then use the funds which would have gone to them to go to their cronies. NCLB may have been particularly successful in part because the stated premise was at least reasonable, so that for example Sen. Kennedy became a sponsor.

The blog addresses the stated premise of NCLB, which is the right thing to do in terms of long-range strategy (i.e. once we get out the crooks). I agree with Jared that in retrospect the premise of NCLB does not address what is fundamentally wrong with US education. It is hard to be too cynical when looking at the current administration, and it is at least plausable that part of the strategy is to keep part of the electorate uneducated so they have less of a chance of understanding what is really going on in this country.

However, in the short run, the best thing we can do for education is to limit the damage done by these criminals, not fine points of educational theory. How to do this is the discussion which needs to go on now. Real education reform, like real health reform, cannot happen under the current administration. It is far from certain that it will happen under the next administration either, unless we get a progressive (not just Democratic) majority.

by Hong Kong Chevy 2007-07-08 08:30AM | 0 recs
How NCLB messes up local education

Here in California, we have almost no money for education. Prop 13 has moved us from being among the nation's top school systems to ranking in the 30's or 40's, behind Arkansas.

NCLB makes things worse. It is designed to make public school systems fail.

--Impossibly and constantly-escalating NCLB testing demands: This year x% of students must pass NCLB tests; next year it's x plus 5% more. You can never catch up.

--Impossible NCLB improvements required in small populations. If your district has 10 special ed students, and 80% must pass this year, then next year 85% must pass. There is no exemption, which means that those two kids who are profoundly disabled and can't talk at all can keep the district from NCLB certification.

--Constant NCLB tests required (11 days of tests a year just for 6th grade students). Add to that the time to show students how to take the test (an important life-skill, how to fill in bubbles on a test sheet). So that means less time for theater or other "non-academic" pursuits. The elementary school 3rd grade play has been eliminated to allow for more test preparation time.

--De-certification for small problems, even if the district is performing well. Our district sends a huge percentage of students to college, works hard to deal with the achievement gap, and has a "State recognized distinguished" middle school. But we can lose certification if some small segment of our population does not "improve" NCLB test results.

--Huge amount of NCLB paperwork. We have a district of 3000 kids with a superintendent; an asst. superintendent for finance; and an asst. superintendent half-time just to meet NCLB paperwork requirements, and half-time for everything else including curriculum, staff supervision, HR, etc.

by MS 2007-07-08 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: How NCLB messes up local education

Your sixth-graders spend eleven days each year on NCLB-required testing?  In Ohio, no elementary or middle school grade takes more than four state assessments each year.  Tenth-graders take all five sections of the Ohio Graduation Test (reading, math, writing, science, social studies), and students do not repeat sections once they have passed them.  About two thirds of Ohio students pass all five sections on the first attempt.

And - again, speaking for Ohio only - subgroups must have at least 30 students (45 for students with disabilities) before they can be considered as part of the NCLB evaluation for a school or district.  Ten students is a ridiculously small number for any sort of evaluation.  And alternate assessments (basically collections of classroom work) are available for the most profoundly disabled students.

Let's not confuse testing itself with the uses to which testing data are put.  As much as I support instruction in science, social studies, critical thinking, and oher areas, I have no problem saying first things first.  If students can't read or do math at grade level, perhaps other things should be deemphasized.

by KTinOhio 2007-07-08 08:37PM | 0 recs


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