Back flips

Some liberals are defending Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, convinced it’s the only way to focus attention on the achievement gap. In the LA Times, Ronald Brownstein hits Kerry for flip-flopping on the law. Once Kerry called for accountability in education; now he’s defending the status quo.

Kerry and other skeptics point to some legitimate problems in No Child Left Behind. But many education reformers worry that the changes he’s demanding will do more to hide problems in the schools than to fix them. Put another way: His proposed revisions mostly favor the adults working in the school system over students and their parents.

Kerry’s most important proposal would change the way the law assesses schools. Now, schools must test every student in reading and math annually from third through eighth grade. Schools must show improvement every year for every group of students — not just white or middle-class kids, but minority and low-income children as well. Schools that don’t meet that standard are labeled as needing improvement, which triggers an escalating series of reforms.

. . . Kerry’s clear intent is to loosen the standard so that fewer schools are identified as needing improvement, even if student test scores fail to rise. It’s easy to see why teachers and administrators worried about their public image like that idea. It’s more difficult to see how it helps parents or children.

It’s a myth that “the law punishes schools designated as needing improvement,” writes Brownstein.

In fact, schools face no changes until they have failed to raise student performance for at least two consecutive years. Even then, they are only required to develop an improvement plan and, more important, to allow parents to transfer their children to other public schools. If the school fails to improve student performance for three consecutive years, it must provide low-income parents stipends to obtain extra tutoring for their kids, often from respected providers like Sylvan Learning Center.

In other words, when students don’t make progress, the law initially demands that schools offer parents more options — the chance to switch schools or receive extra tutoring. “These are not things that parents will tell you are punitive — they are benefits,” said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, a group that advocates for low-income children.

Kerry is trying to repackage himself as a fiscal conservative, so he’s “scaled back” two expensive proposals he pushed during the primaries: pre-school and free college tuition in exchange for community service.

Meanwhile, President Bush is adding education proposals, including a larger Pell grant for low-income students who study math or science in college. It would be paid for by limiting Pell grants for four-year college programs to eight years of study and those for two-year community colleges to four.

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  1. No Child Left Behind falters because politics cannot bear the realities of education one of which is the limitations imposed upon individuals by genetics and environment. If anyone believes that education can erase the vast differences in capabilities, he or she is delusional. Ideals that stray too far from what life actually deals out to all of us is doomed to disappoint and frustrate.

  2. Fuzzy Rider says:

    Given the Fed’s track record on running anything, I have grave doubts about any of their attempts at ‘improving’ schools. Aside from that, am I the only person bothered by the blatant unconstitutionality of ‘No Child Left Behind’? I think the states should be left to tend to their own gardens.

  3. Fuzzy Rider says:

    Excellent point, Vernon. You are very un-PC, and I admire you for it!

  4. Walter Wallis says:

    How is Jerry Brown’s little Military School by the Bay doing?

  5. John from OK says:

    Bush’s Pell Grant cutback would still have not affected the late John Bulishi (aka Bluto):
    “Seven years of college for nothing!”

  6. I am personally a fan of President Bush and intend to vote for him in November, but as an educator I am highly distressed at the results of the No Child Left Behind act and count it as one of the few issues where I cannot agree with my leader. It has nothing to do with my fear of “losing face” when poor test scores are posted; it has nothing to do with a desire to maintain the status quo; it has everything to do with the results we are now observing in the schools after the past several years of annual testing of students. A cookie-cutter mentality is being forced upon these children. In an effort to improve test scores, those skills which data show will raise scores are being taught to the exclusion of all else. Each year the students are becoming more apathetic, disinterested. We are systematically crushing any real love of learning, which is essential to creating life-long learners and independent thinkers. When the comment is made that the “adults working in the system” are being favored, I do have to laugh. The teachers call the law “No Teachers Left Standing.” Before this began I was working an average of sixty hours per week as a freshman English teacher in a junior high. The hours now usually average seventy hours per week. The paperwork is suffocating, the frameworks are so broad and numerous that we cannot possibly cover them all well in any one given school year, and finally, the pressure to raise test scores despite the myriad factors that accompany our students to the building each day is mind-numbing. I’m all for accountability in education, but No Child Left Behind leaves all of the accountability on the educators and eases the responsibility off of the parents and students. That’s a terrible disservice to everyone involved. There are so many ways that we could improve the system, starting with the removal of all federal interference and allowing states to deem for themselves what is best.

  7. Mad Scientist says:

    Fine Erin, I would be happy to remove all federal “interference” if the schoold districts give up the money associated with that “interference”. No more “School Lunch Programs”, none of this crap about temporary funding to hire permanent teachers, etc.

    Then we can talk about State “interference” and begin to remove those programs. Let’s have 100% of the funding for schools be the responsibility of the individual districts.

    Then we would see academies of Football in Texas, Segregation in the deep South, Gay Studies programs in San Franscsco, and the like.

    Truly a great idea.

    When there are no common standards, you will have anarchy.

    News Flash: Schools have been crushing the love of learning for the teeming masses for years. It seems to have been the rare individual that has that spark.

    It is exceedingly rare that students whose parents don’t have that love of learning actually get it.

    One final note. Please review the lesson on Paragraphs.

  8. Actually, NCLB will fail just like every other program proposed by congress to improve education, the most recent example, Goals 2000 which was lauded by Bill Clinton, and was defunded by Congress in Summer of 2003 after a decade of failing to meet a single defined goal of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

    (A) By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn. (hasn’t happened)

    (A) By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
    (hasn’t happened, actual graduation rate is more like 75 percent)

    (A) By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation’s modern economy. (hasn’t happened, if anything, our kids learn less today than a decade or two ago).

    (A) By the year 2000, the Nation’s teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century (hasn’t happened).

    (A) By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement. (in 1998 we were 18th in the world in math, and dead last in science).

    (A) By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship (hasn’t happened, estimates show that some 35-42 million americans are functionally illiterate)

    (A) By the year 2000, every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning. (hasn’t happened, columbine, planting drugs on students, etc).

    (A) By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children. (hasn’t happened, the majority of parents look at K-12 education as free day care).

    With a track record like this, why would anyone think NCLB could possibly succeed. 🙂