Thursday, June 12, 2008

NCLB's Last Stand?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wrote a lengthy article today on Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and her last-ditch efforts to save No Child Left Behind before it (God willing) meets the overhaul promised by Barack Obama next year (one of her claims is that she plans to “do ‘everything in (her) power’ to improve the law before the White House changes hands”…

Adopted by Congress on a wave of bipartisan unity that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the law imposed unprecedented testing requirements and tough expectations on the nation’s nearly 99,000 public schools. But despite rising test scores, there is no hard-and-fast evidence, most experts say, that it is actually improving student achievement.
Stolberg’s piece is pretty even handed for the most part, but I wanted to take issue with a few points, including this one…

The story of how No Child Left Behind morphed from a bipartisan legislative triumph into a laugh line on the Democratic campaign trail is, in part, the larger story of the Bush domestic policy agenda, of a Texas governor who came to Washington vowing to be “the education president” and wound up consumed with fighting terrorism and two wars.
Boy, am I sick of this narrative!

Franklin Delano Roosevelt oversaw the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FEC), the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration, and probably more governmental programs to get this country back on its feet again from The Great Depression than I could hope to name in a single post. Oh, and he was a wartime president too.

Lyndon Baines Johnson oversaw the creation of (and signed into law) the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts and other “Great Society” programs including Medicare and Medicaid, and he also championed the space program. Oh, and he was a wartime president too.

Dubya signed into law horrific tax cuts that were ruinous to our economy and oversaw the offshoring of our jobs to a greater degree than at any prior point in our history and ran up horrific deficits after being handed a surplus by his predecessor. He also refused to participate in the Kyoto Protocol (don’t mention India and China; we’re supposed to take the lead on this!) and tried to pillage Social Security for the benefit of his generous campaign contributors in the financial services industry (I could go on and on, but that’s enough for starters). And did I mention that he is a wartime president also?

My point? You can be a wartime president and still get a hell of a lot of other stuff done without using that as an excuse.

Stolberg’s piece also notes that Spellings started as “the chief lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards” (figures that she was a lobbyist and not an educator) before Karl Rove introduced her to Dubya, and now, Stolberg tells us that…

“She and Bush have a special relationship, a camaraderie,” Mr. Spellings said of his wife, adding, “She trusts him, and she loves him.”
I probably should have noted this already after reading some story of Our Gal Condi fawning over President Highest Disapproval Rating in Gallup Poll History, but imagine the outcry if Janet Reno or Madeleine Albright had said anything like that about Bill Clinton. And again, if Obama gets in and names a woman to a cabinet post (should be a no-brainer on that one; I’d wonder if he didn’t), I’m sure their relationship will be handled in much more professional terms.

Anyway, back to the story…

(NCLB’s) cornerstone is its requirement that states set targets and issue detailed reports on student performance. Schools must improve the performance of subgroups, including minority, low-income and disabled students. Schools that repeatedly fail to report progress are deemed “in need of improvement,” the law’s term for failing. Students may transfer out of failing schools, and the schools risk being shut down.
If I ruled the world, at least two things would occur: 1) every day would be the first day of spring, and 2) all conservative “code language” would be banned forever from what purports to be legitimate news copy (and that’s what I consider the term “failing schools” to be; that masks the true complexity of what education should represent in this country, and a good deal of that is explained in this 1997 article from The Atlantic by Peter Schrag).

As far as I’m concerned, people may fail, money may fail, techniques may fail, students may fail, but schools (which, first and foremost, are communities of learning) don’t fail!

Stolberg also notes the often-testy relationship Spellings had with fellow Bushco flunky Rod Paige, her predecessor as education secretary who, as former Houston School Superintendent, lied about his district’s dropout rate in order to trump his schools as a “success story” (here)…

All in all, 463 kids left Sharpstown High School (in 2001), for a variety of reasons. The school reported zero dropouts, but dozens of the students did just that. School officials hid that fact by classifying, or coding, them as leaving for acceptable reasons: transferring to another school, or returning to their native country.

“That’s how you get to zero dropouts. By assigning codes that say, ‘Well, this student, you know, went to another school. He did this or that.’ And basically, all 463 students disappeared. And the school reported zero dropouts for the year,” says (Robert) Kimball (former Asst. principal at Sharpstown H.S.). “They were not counted as dropouts, so the school had an outstanding record.”
This is in keeping with the deceit of NCLB, which, more than anything else, became an excuse for Bushco insiders to grow fat, dumb and happy at the expense of our kids: here and here are links to learn more about the scam of “Reading First” to “promote teaching methods” in concert with NCLB which ended up piloting unproven programs, and here is the story of how NCLB created another slice of the patronage pie for Neil Bush and his consulting company.

I should point out, though, that I think Stolberg stumbles upon the real reason for Spellings’ efforts to resuscitate the under funded and failed NCLB fiasco…

…her travels (across the country to promote NCLB) have raised her profile, building a network of connections that could prove useful if she runs for public office.
And to what end, I wonder…

At 50, (Spellings) is viewed as a potential candidate for Texas governor…
No doubt trying to follow in the footsteps of the man she “loves”; how touching.

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