No (poorly performing) Child Left Behind (in School)?
One way to improve test scores is to remove the bottom ten per cent of a class from school. In urban schools, removal of 30-40% of the weakest students does wonders to the test results. Without improving the actual education in those buildings in any way, test results can sky rocket. Such manipulation of data is a matter or smoke, mirrors and overlooking the castoffs, the failures and the least hopeful children of our land.
The astonishing thing about this group of self-proclaimed miracle workers is their persistent effort to apply the same tactics to change throughout the land. While thousands of Texas students were allowed to drop out of school and were left behind in the worst sense, the leaders who should have been trying to keep them in school were promoted to Washington and given a chance to repeat the damage nationwide. These leaders seem unconcerned by the apparent deception regarding Texas dropouts and unaware of the ironic nature of their catchy slogan - No Child Left Behind.
- Education Secretary Defends School System He Once Led
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
July 26, 2003
New York Times
The change strategies employed in Texas were seriously flawed and incredibly hurtful to many students. We should ask that Congress call a halt to NCLB before the Texas Miracle works its way across America like some perfect educational storm, a twister, cyclone, or tsunami wave of monstrous proportions.
A recent report suggests that several states have been seriously under-reporting the number of students who fail to graduate:
- Graduation Study Suggests That Some States Sharply Understate High School Dropout Rates
- By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
September 16, 2003
New York Times
Threats and Bribes
When the TEA did an audit of the Houston ISD's record-keeping for the year 2000, the last year the current Secretary of Ed was running the show in that district, it reported that sixteen secondary schools under-reported dropout numbers and changed the classification of those schools from excellent to failing.
- The state audited 16 middle schools and high schools and found that of 5,500 teenagers who had left school in the 2000-1 school year, about 3,000, or 55 percent, should have been reported as dropouts. The audit recommended lowering the rankings of 14 of the 16 schools, and said Houston's school system should be ranked unacceptable. (Quoting from the New York Times article cited above.)
Who was to fault for a system that allowed thousands of students to fall through the cracks while bragging that the problem had disappeared?
When the top leader creates a system with short term contracts, lucrative cash rewards for certain numbers (low dropouts and high scores) and an atmosphere of "accountability" that keeps the pressure cooking at high levels, it is a recipe for disaster. That is exactly the system installed by the superintendent of Houston and the governor of the state. They called the results a "miracle." Now some folks are wondering if other words might fit better. Will there be additional audits and a broader investigation into the huge sums awarded to Houston schools and administrators for reporting good results in other years? Will the reports of the previous six years be left unexamined?
The TEA did an audit on a single year, but principals could win as much as $ 5000 per year in state funds for reporting excellent results. What if an audit were conducted for six years and it turned out that great results were based on false claims? How much money should be returned to the State? And who should be held responsible for the false claims? Is it a criminal offense to obtain state funds with false data?
Ignoring Research in Change
We have decades worth of research to help guide change efforts in schools. The NCLB proponents and self-professed miracle workers seem convinced that fear and punishment is a great motivator, and yet there is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, in the research on organizational development in industry or schools that validates the worth of fear, anxiety, stress and intimidation as incentives and conditions to engender growth and progress.
To the contrary, those who indulge in top-down management seeking to impose their will, their ideologies, their bias and their visions on those who must do the actual work are apt to suffer the fate of most dictators and demagogues. The failure to recruit, persuade, encourage and support those who must deliver the actual results is likely to create the kind of fake miracles we have just witnessed in Texas - not only on the educational front but also in the corporate world where numbers were exaggerated and manipulated to make the bottom line look better than it was in truth.
The false notions, dangerous misconceptions and harmful strategies embedded in NCLB are just now coming to the surface as the time release aspects of this law begin to kick in and thousands of schools are suffering from measures that leave them struggling to survive.
Heart of Darkness
At the heart of this damaging approach to education is a social doctrine near and dear to conservatives - Social Darwinism2 and survival of the fittest. But in this case it is applied to the life of schools. Schools with many struggling students are viewed as failures.
Give schools two years to straighten out. If that's not enough time to reach high standards, let them die. Open the flood gates. Turn their students loose on the so-called good schools of the district. If they have no open seats, let them taste the joys of the corporate educational market place.
Sadly, some of the schools with stubbornly low scores have excellent principals, passionately committed teachers and decades of experience working with children who arrive in school at kindergarten not ready to learn (despite the promises of an earlier President Bush). NCLB fails to address the root causes of poor school performance such as poverty, low nutrition and weak starts in life. NCLB fails to bring Head-Start to full funding. It simply imposes high standards without developing capacities. And the impact of open floodgates will be the destruction of schools that actually have substantial capacity to work with disadvantaged children.
How sad that these "miracle workers" are telling parents that their children will become better readers simply by changing schools. Even if there were empty seats in these other schools, there is no way to predict how well advantaged schools in affluent neighborhoods will be able to transform the performance of children who begin school without a decent start in life.
Lurking behind this NCLB program is an educational VIRUS or WORM much like the Sobig.F virus that recently struck computers globally. The hidden agenda of NCLB is to shut down urban public schools and send their clients into the brave new world of corporate schooling, even though there is no convincing evidence that these free market alternatives will reverse the long established patterns of poor school performance. We've watched a handful of corporate pioneers try but fail to impress with industrial schools for more than a decade.
After two more years of NCLB, parents, teachers and communities will rise up and demand an end to the interference, the false promises, the gimmickry and the rash experimentation.