"The law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible and focused on the schools and students most at risk."
U.S. Department of Education Secretary – Arne Duncan
It’s all about the test scores. Administrators, pressured to reach or maintain test scores to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) adequate yearly progress benchmarks, insists that teachers strictly adhere to the “essential standards” that will be tested on the standardized state test. Only the courageous teacher will deviate to include the visual and performing arts, social studies, and other subjects with nonessential standards.
NCLB is federal legislation signed into law with bipartisan support in 2002 meant to improve public schools. The original intent was to provide billions of dollars and other support to close the achievement gap between different groups of students. Standards-based education was to be developed by the states to clearly define what a child should know and be able to do by the end of a school year. And for the first time, visual and performing arts was listed as a core academic subject. Standardized annual state tests were also to be implemented to measure adequate yearly progress in closing the achievement gaps.
The funds to aid the states never fully materialized. And punitive damages to states, districts, and schools tied to the standardized state tests changed the dynamics of the law’s original intent.
Schools will do whatever it takes to avoid the punitive damage that NCLB will visit upon then if the do not reach the test benchmarks. Cheating, unfortunately, has become a problem. In the wake of the city wide cheating scandal in Atlanta, U.S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan, has expressed his concern about cheating – again.
Unfortunately, there are other ways of beating the test-based accountability system besides cheating.
Did you ever see the 1990 movie, Pump Up The Volume, starring a young Christian Slater? It was about a shy teenager with a pirate radio station connecting with other teens as he found his voice to speak his mind. The story in the background was about a principal finding unjustified reasons for expelling poor performing students that will lower the school’s test scores.
Closer to real life is the closing and reopening of schools with a new name. Changing the student testing population of a school. Lowering the standard for what is defined as proficient on test scores. Or, if it is a charter or magnet school, dropping low performing students back to their regular neighborhood public school.
Such seems to be the case of Katherine Sprowal’s son, Matthew. Ms. Sprowal was initially please that Matthew won the lottery to attend a New York City charter school. It soon became clear that the school that will not let him fail was recommending that he would be better suited elsewhere to be successful. Matthew was diagnosed with having an attention disorder. Years later, Ms. Sprowal became convinced that her son was done an injustice. Fortunately, he thrived at Public School 75.
In 2010, Harold Maready, superintendent of McKeel Schools in Florida, defended the charter school’s dismissal rate. Charter schools must accept all students. It is only when a charter school is filled to capacity that a lottery system is used to select students. Once enrolled, however, a signed contract with a very defined policy on reasons for dismissal, including behavior, attendance, and academic performance may drop a student later. Typically these students return to the neighborhood public school.
Soon it will not matter. The system is falling apart. The NCLB test benchmarks are raised in intervals over the years to measure yearly adequate progress toward the goal of 100 percent of all students proficient or better in math and English language arts by the year 2014. U.S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan has estimated that 82 percent of schools may be labeled as failed schools in the next test cycle because the benchmark has become so high.
Arne Duncan has called upon Congress to change the law. It was suppose to be revised in 2008 to avoid the pending catastrophic test scores, but it never happened. In the meanwhile he is offering a waiver from the test results to desperate states if they will agree to restrictive stipulations that will give the federal government more control over public education. He did the same with billions of Race To The Top Grant dollars.
States are now abandoning NCLB and daring Congress to do something about it. Congress will eventually do something, but they are so far down the wrong path that it will not be the right thing. Ultimately the federal government needs to get out of the school improvement business. They are not very good at it. We need to privatize public education out of direct government control without imposing tuition on parents and still meet the public good. Finding the right combination of instruction, management, and structure for sustainable funding and accreditation will be a challenge, but our kids are worth it.
Educator Musing is the place to explore this idea.
The Commercial Appeal – Tennessee Eyes Waiver For No Child Left Behind
The Ledger – Maready Defends McKeel’s Policies