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Volume II, Number 3, March, 2004

"Rules Eased on Upgrading U.S. Schools"
Published: March 16, 2004
in the New York Times

Too Little Too Late

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

© 2004, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved

Three years of insults, threats and imperious behaviors culminated recently in the outrageous assertion by the Secretary of Education that the NEA was a terroristic organization.

This absurd comment was emblematic of a departmental hard line that had upset both Republicans and Democrats across the line who had dared to question the wisdom of these poorly funded and ill-considered federal mandates. But within days of this insult, the Secretary was backpedaling and trying to smooth over troubled waters as Republicans in Utah and Virginia led the revolt against NCLB's top down mandates and often senseless provisions.

Smiling warmly and trying on a new "Mr. Nice Guy" image, Rod Paige announced that the DOE was retreating on several of the law's most absurd provisions. He suddenly tried to paint his regime as big on listening and fairness.

This is too little, too late.

It is tokenism.

NCLB/Helter-Skelter is so riddled with bad policy and hidden agendas that it has only one fate worthy of consideration: repeal.

You will find a full outline of these issues and problems in "Gambling with the Children" at

The sudden swerve in tone is nothing more than election year politics - an attempt by previously inflexible ideologues to soften their tone and their message in order to protect the sitting President from the loss of votes sure to result from a policy that is damaging to schools, to children, to families and to teachers.

"GOP lawmakers scrap plan to exit No Child Left Behind"  
Arizona Daily Sun - Mar 16 5:08 AM
PHOENIX -- House Republicans gave up their fight Monday to pull Arizona out of the No Child Left Behind program because it was undermining President Bush's reelection effort.

(This is an archived story and may not be available for free.)

The true impact of NCLB - Damage to Children - is becoming evident in pivotal election states like Florida where the President's brother has held back thousands of young children despite research evidence that such policies do little good. This state was narrowly awarded to Bush in the most recent presidential election but is unlikely to repeat the same mistake a second time.

Despite claims of scientific research and superior intelligence, the Bush education plan is bankrupt.

Rampant Experimentation, Gambling and Speculation

Although they dress in dark suits and act like they know what they are doing, many of the current leaders of NCLB have dubious resumes when it comes to educational experience, graduate study or track records for success.

Last month's issue took a careful look at the lack of success with Baltimore schools exhibited by the head of the national reading program - "Beltway Bosses: It's Beltway or the Highway - DC Reading Bosses Dictate Programs for the Big Apple." In other articles, we have looked at the facts behind the so-called "Texas Miracle" that won high test scores and low dropout rates by employing dubious accounting, retention and curriculum strategies. Note "A Lost Generation? A Million Left Behind?" and "Engineering Educational Miracles."

Cyber-Schools Show Danger of Gambling with Children

While school choice, charter schools and innovative practices are centerpieces of the NCLB offensive against the public schools, many of these strategies are as risky and ill-considered as the dotcom ventures we saw fade in and out of view during the previous decade.

Launched with much fanfare and praise for free market virtues, many of the DOE's pet projects have stumbled and disappointed. There is a sustained pattern of reckless experimentation and neglect as children have been enrolled in many programs that fail to deliver the most basic proficiencies.

“It is important to empower parents with educational options, be they public schools, charter schools, cyber schools or homeschooling. Supporting charter schools is a wise investment, and I encourage states to take advantage of these federal funds to create or expand their charter school facilities programs.”

Secretary of Education Rod Paige;
  Press release for State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Program

Source: Ed Dept. Press Release - Click here.

Cyber schools have proven a popular form of charter school in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but a recent story by WIRED documents dismal learning results. Here we have the diversion of public educational dollars to unproven, virtually public charter ventures not supported by research-based educational practices but allowed to operate outside the cumbersome regulations of NCLB.

Sketchy Grades for Cyber Schools,1284,62662,00.html

By John Gartner 

Cyber schools -- where students complete all coursework online using home computers -- are a big hit with parents, who are signing up their children as quickly as the virtual doors open. However, test results for 2003 show students at many cyber schools are not measuring up to state standards or to their peers who attend brick-and-mortar schools.

In Pennsylvania, students who attended the state's six cyber schools scored
below the state average in a majority of proficiency tests, according to 2003 test results. The PA System of School Assessment exam, or PSSA exam, given to fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students show cyber schools were below the state average in 17 out of 24 comparisons, and in half the cases the schools did not meet the state's goals of 35 percent of students showing proficiency in math, and 45 percent in reading.

False Statements and Broken Promises

Some of the statements are simply false . . .

Not One Dime!

RON PAIGE: We won't spend a dime on programs that won't work. If it's not working, we won't spend money on it.

This comment from the Secretary of Education was made during a PBS interview first broadcast June 2, 2003.

The spending on unproven experiments continues without restraint or remorse.

The Secretary's actions and funding commitments contradict his statements. Gambling, risk, experimentation and speculation remain the primary strategy for changing schools.

Gambling Makes for Short Changing Schools and Children

Rarely discussed in the national press are the consequences of diverting public funds to these risky ventures. In Pennsylvania, for example, the family of a formerly home-schooled child can apply for public funding of virtual school attendance. The company providing this virtual schooling sends a bill to the home school district of this student - a district that may have never seen this student in the past. The company provides the student a computer. The student remains at home. The student uses the company's software and online learning programs. The local district pays $ 6,000 per child. The drain on local budgets is intense and amounts to a siphoning of public monies to pay for previously private education. The charter schools become a Trojan Horse for privatization.

For a full outline of the damage being done, read the article by Kimberly Reeves: "Cyber Schools:  Friend or Foe? Who pays the freight when your students enroll in other schools' online classes?" The article first appeared in AASA's The School Administrator Web Edition in October 2001.

Another article exploring the dimensions of this issue is available from the Education Commission of the States (ECS). ECS is a nonprofit, nationwide organization that helps state leaders shape education policy.

"Cyber Charter Schools - a May 2003 Policy Brief" at

© 2004, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.