"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘NCLB’

More on NCLB

Following up the not-so-dramatic revelation that the No Child Left Behind Act is failing drastically, I decided to post some more facts about the state of public education in America.  Unfortunately, I cannot do so, because of another failure of the same piece of legislation.  NCLB, you’ll recall, was supposed to make information about education readily available.  By any standard, I think it’s safe to say it hasn’t done so.

For example, let me take the public high school nearest to me: Rappahannock County High School, in Rapphannock County Virgina.  With a simple search, I can find the school’s website.  The front page of the site gives me fascinating information about the calendar, school lunch prices, and office hours, but no visible information about the school’s academic performance.  I look to the list of tabs on the left, and I click the one labeled “Academics”, but that only leads me to the transcript request form.  Nothing wrong with a transcript request form, but I don’t see any information about academics there.  I click the most promising of the other tabs, but none of them give me any information about the school’s performance on standardized testing or anything other solid, factual measure of how the school performs.  It’s safe to say that most public schools in this country follow the same pattern.  They are not eager to give parents direct information about how well they’re doing their jobs.

Searching a little bit farther afield, I find the site greatschools.com, run by a private nonprofit group, which has a page for Rappahanncok County High School.  They do have some actual data, all coming from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, the testing regimen that Virginia created to meet the mandates of NCLB.  They do tell the percentage of students that pass each test each year.  But that’s it.  Parents cannot, as far as I can tell, get any information more specific than that.

Obviously there’s a great deal more that a parent would probably want to know about their school beyond merely whether their child is likely to pass a certain test.  Parents might want to know the distribution of actual scores that students got on that test.  They might want to know how many students go on to college, and which colleges they go to.  Parents might want to know which areas the school is most successful in, what the pass/fail rates are in every class rather than just overall, and how experienced the teachers are in various areas.  Parents might want to know a great many other things.  This information may, for all I know, be available somewhere, but it should be readily available to anyone who looks.  It should be gathered in one place and presented clearly.  A section on the school’s website would certain suffice.

So why isn’t it.  Well, the answer isn’t too difficult to figure out.  Nobody associated with the public schools–teachers, administrators, unions, or politicians–wants this information to be readily available.  Too much of the information reflects negatively on those exact groups of people.  If word got out about how bad America’s public schools are, the public might actually demand serious change.  That’s why they do their best to hide the information.

How to turn failing schools into succeeding schools

I’ve been blogging for over a year and I’ve written 162 posts, and yet I’ve written little about a subject of great interest to me, which happens to be my chosen profession: education.  I am a teacher, and as such a follower of trends in education.  My attention was grabbed by a recent newspaper headline with the self-explanatory headline: Half of U.S. Schools Fail Federal Standards.

Let me give you a brief history.  For decades we’ve known that America’s public school system is failing, with test scores and other measures for our public school students lagging behind private school students, behind previous generations, and behind students from other countries.  In 2001 Congress and then-President Bush finally did something in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act.  The idea was that every state would have to implement a strict testing regimen for its public schools, by which it would measure whether each school was ‘failing’ or not.  For schools that were failing, there would be consequences.  Of course, as with most federal legislation, a lot was left blurry and ambiguous.  States had a lot of leeway in how to create their tests, how to evaluate schools, and how to respond once any school was found to be failing.

The result, 10 years later, is summarized in the headline above.  Almost half of schools are failing.  That means half of schools will face consequences, right?  No more passive acceptance of mediocrity, no more pretending not to notice, no more leaving any child behind?

Actually not.   As the article explains, our Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a response.  The failures are “an alarming trend that Duncan hopes to address by granting states relief from the federal law.”  Yes, that’s right, if half our schools are failing, we should just change the law that was instituted to prevent them from failing.  But it gets better:

The numbers indicate what federal officials have been saying for more than a year — that the law, which is four years overdue for a rewrite, is “too crude a measure” to accurately depict what’s happening in schools, said Jack Jennings , president of the Washington, D.C.-based center. An overhaul of the law has become mired in the partisan atmosphere in Congress, with lawmakers disagreeing over how to fix it.

“No Child Left Behind is defective,” Jennings told The Associated Press. “It needs to be changed. If Congress can’t do it, then the administration is right to move ahead with waivers.”

So now our “federal officials” are telling us that the federal government’s own law is a bad thing.  Really?  It’s too bad they couldn’t have figured that perhaps ten years ago, before the federal government passed the law that they’re now badmouthing.  It’s too bad that even while everyone from teachers to parents to local governments was well aware of NCLB’s many large failings, the federal government wasn’t willing to listen until a year ago.  But I guess that’s just too much to ask from the federal government.

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