Friday, September 07, 2007

The ABCs Of Fixing NCLB

The New York Times reported yesterday that Margaret Spellings was at it again, criticizing the efforts of Congress to try and fix NCLB.

In a speech before a business group and at a news conference, Ms. Spellings said that a series of proposals in draft legislation circulated by Democrats and Republicans on the House education committee, taken together, would allow states to remove children from testing regimes and tutoring services, and would make it too difficult for parents to know whether students and schools are making progress.
To me, the first clue that something is wrong is the fact that she’s meeting with a business group and the media instead of a roomful of parents.

Well, fortunately for us in the 8th U.S. congressional district, Patrick Murphy has…

(Murphy), a Democrat who represents Bucks County and parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia, credits the law with setting some standards. A federal study analyzing the law shows that students are making improvements, and achievement gaps are closing. But the law is too punitive, he said, and doesn't give schools enough of a chance to improve.

The current law is designed to punish schools that underperform by withholding federal funds, said Adam Abrams, a spokesman for the congressman.

“The system should be redesigned to improve public schools, not abandon them,” Abrams said. “Our schools in Bucks County that need the most help will be the ones most hurt by this policy — current NCLB provisions do not take into account the level at which the schools started, and even if they make great progress they are still penalized for not meeting the one-size-fits-all standards.”

Another sore spot for Murphy is the trend in some schools of “teaching to the test.”

“We deserve an education system that has both high standards for achievement and high standards of accountability,” Murphy said. “That starts by making sure that attention is paid to individual students without simply teaching for the sake of a test.”
And in case anyone was wondering about students requiring special education…

Some teachers have been forced to put so much focus on English and math that instruction in other subjects has suffered. Jerry Oleksiak, a special education teacher in Upper Merion and president of the Mideastern Region of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said his district has had to cut back on social studies and other subjects so educators could focus more on tests.
Don’t ever wonder why kids don’t place a priority on voting, reading newspapers, writing to them or generally being informed about local, state, and federal government, by the way; I have just given you a big part of the reason.

Such sacrifices are happening nationwide. The Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank, reports that districts are spending more time on math and reading, the only subjects tested under NCLB, and less time on subjects such as social studies, art, music and gym. In about 20 percent of the 350 schools surveyed, even lunchtime was cut back.

More problematic, however, is the conflicting message the law is sending to students with learning disabilities, Oleksiak said. Every special education student is assigned an education plan, which considers limits in learning and requires educators to teach at the student's ability level.

“The one-size-fits-all mentality just doesn't work with students we see every day,” he said. “We are putting our students in a situation where we are asking them to be taught at one ability level and tested on another. As a special education teacher — we have students sitting in front of us in tears; they cannot do what they're being asked to do on the test. Our older kids just shut down.”
This links to proposals by the John Edwards campaign on education, and this links to an editorial by Bill Richardson in USA Today in which he advocates scrapping NCLB altogether. That’s attractive to me also, but to be honest with you (after some further consideration), I’d like to see if it can be salvaged somehow under a new (God willing) Democratic presidential administration in 2009.

That’s the only hope I see for it. If not, put it out of its misery and try again.


daveawayfromhome said...

NCLB cannot possible stand for much longer, for a very simple reason: in just 7 years, the law requires every child to pass whatever testing is in place. That includes the Special Ed, the brand-new immigrants with no english, and the kids who dont give a flying fuck about school. It's completely insane, and this policy cannot possibly go on for more than a decade (I hope).

But that's 10 years longer for conservatives to fight for their pet school privatization scheme, vouchers.

doomsy said...

I forgot about the "V" word - thanks for reminding me (and yes, that's indeed what they want; privatization for everything after drowning government in their bathtub).