Because of No Child Left Behind, suburban schools that do a decent job educating affluent children may earn low rankings if they fail to educate black, Hispanic, low-income or disabled students. That’s the point of the law. Yet it’s missed once again by the New York Times, which focuses on the angst of well-off families who don’t want their local schools marked down for leaving children behind.
Eduwonk wonders why the Times is siding with the haves against the have-nots. The story quotes mothers in a Chicago suburb worrying whether colleges will look down on Hinsdale South applicants.
And a friend, Donna Siefer, voiced another worry: How would real estate agents finesse the bad news to potential home buyers? That rang bells for Diane Bolos, president of a Hinsdale South fund-raising group.
“Yeah, did Congress consider what labeling a school would do to property values?” Mrs. Bolos asked.
Eduwonk comments: “There was a time when Timesmen would be outraged by such naked self-interest at the expense of the disadvantaged. Comforting the afflicted? Whatever…”
Through my Edupals, I’ve discovered Miscellaneous Objections a newish blog by Ryan Sager, a very young New York Post editorial writer. He says NCLB inevitably will be watered down when it causes too much discomfort to the comfortable and powerful.
The pattern is familiar. A law like NCLB is passed, demanding that all schools meet “high standards.” But then something completely predictable happens: Schools, with no extra resources, with no extra freedom to run themselves, with the exact same student populations they’ve always been serving, don’t improve all that much. Communities are outraged that their schools are failing, teachers unions look bad and so do the politicians.
So the standards are loosened.
Public education reform is only as strong as the political will to enforce it.
To put it mildly, that will is never very strong. There will always be teachers unions (one of the most powerful forces in American politics), racial grievance-mongers, soft-hearted parents, lazy bureaucrats and a host of others who will say: To hell with it.
The standards movement is tinkering. Small class sizes is tinkering. Higher teacher pay is tinkering. All of these ideas have been tried and have failed with various degrees of spectacularness.
Lack of choice is the root problem, writes Sager. And the Bush administration hasn’t done much for choice, especially charters. Students can transfer from failing schools under NCLB but they’ll have a hard time finding better schools to attend.