Hillary: End NCLB

Campaigning in South Dakota, Sen. Hillary Clinton said, “I will end No Child Left Behind, because it is not working!”

“A school district in South Dakota may not be the same as a school district in California or Florida or New York City right?” says Clinton.

In which states are reading and math skills unimportant?

Via Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education. As it happens, I’m at the ED in ’08 conference in D.C. listening to a panel moderated by Russo.

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Comments

  1. <<< In which states are reading skills unimportant?

    States which have yet to hold primaries. And those where unpledged superdelegates might read that Senator Clinton’s campaign is doomed.

  2. Mrs. Davis says:

    In which states are reading and math skills unimportant?

    That would better be phrased, To which teachers’ unions are reading and math skills important?

  3. “A school district in South Dakota may not be the same as a school district in California or Florida or New York City right?” says Clinton.

    Hmmm. One wonders why a liberal like Mrs. Clinton who loves central planning in almost all other venues has “seen the light” in relation to local control of public schools. Could she be pandering to a particular group like teachers’ unions?

  4. I teach in a rural state near South Dakota, and what Hilary says is true. NCLB is incredibly dopey, whatever one’s attitudes toward reading and writing. It creates stupid and unresolvable dilemmas and makes some obvious solutions politically untenable.

    For example, we would like to set up an alternative high school for students throughout the valley who are having trouble. The main barrier is that to succeed we would need students from other small towns who would benefit from this service to attend. But once they enrolled, they become “our problem” as far as NCLB reporting goes. Needless to say, they aren’t high performers. If we move in this direction we are guaranteed not to make AYP.

    There’s lots more. Just because one favors teaching reading and writing doesn’t mean one must support a centrally planned trainwreck.

    I won’t be voting for Hilary but in this little instance she is saying something true, though I doubt it’s truth has much to do with why she is saying it.

  5. Of course previous to the existence of NCLB there weren’t any worries about making AYP or, indeed, any progress at all. Lousy schools could perk along, being lousy, forever because there wasn’t any reason to get better. Well now there is.

  6. Allen, said, “Of course previous to the existence of NCLB there weren’t any worries about making AYP or, indeed, any progress at all. Lousy schools could perk along, being lousy, forever because there wasn’t any reason to get better. Well now there is.”

    Under NCLB, these lousy schools still perk along, being lousy forever. NCLB has done and will do nothing to change that because it cannot. It is a top-down program that cannot manage itself in Washington much less manage a small school district in South Dakota. (Question: Has a public school been closed anywhere because it did not meet a NCLB standard?) As long as schools stay in business whether they are lousy or not, they have no incentive to change. All they have is incentive to fudge the numbers so that they seem to be improving. If their lifeline–eternal funding–is cut and they have to compete, some will change. The ones that cannot compete will go out of business as they should. Until then, they will not change because they do not have to do so to get their funding.

  7. Then what’s all the tearing of hair and rending of garments about? Sorry, NCLB has teeth and they’ve been felt. If not to the extent that the law requires at least enough to send a shock of recognition through the public education system: the onrushing freight train of accountability.

    Is it my idea of the right way to do accountability? Not hardly but politics isn’t called “the art of the possible” as a result of an excess of poetic energy. This is as good as it gets under the current system. If we want better we’re going to have to change the current system in fundamental ways.

    NCLB helps set the stage for such a change by reintroducing a previously stifled concept: accountability. NCLB’s always been possible at the state level and most states have a gutted version of accountability standards upon which NCLB was built. NCLB raises the issue on the national stage making the stuffing of the accountability genii back into its bottle a much tougher proposition.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    Allen makes some good points. Many states had already implemented accountability systems prior to NCLB. States still have considerable decision-making ability, as witnessed by such things as setting high “n” numbers (meaning that unless your school or district has that number of students in a particular category they get a pass on AYP for that group) or low passing scores. Now, it is true that they do so at their own peril (Are there colleges or employers flocking to recruit from any states whose kids are getting over with these kinds of minimal expectations?). And the most recent proposals from Margaret Spellings respond to some of these things. In my own state, a school such as the one that Michael suggests could be set up in such a way as to require that scores be included in the “home shool” of the students involved–really a win-win, assuming that the school could actual foster improved progress for that population (as opposed to just getting them out of the way–but schools would never do that kind of thing, would they?)

    On the other hand, I would say Allen, that most of the tearing of hair and rending of garments is pretty much just that. My district has closed some schools where enrollment is low, but none for poor performance. Given a loss of student population it might have made sense to use performance among the criteria for closing some buildings–but they still pretty much think the problem is the kids, not anything going in IN the buildings. And some teachers have been laid off in response to declining enrollment–again based on seniority, not performance.

    I don’t think NCLB is perfect, but I do believe that accountability is needed. And this particular accountability (tied to Title I funds–implemented long ago with the intent of providing improved educational outcomes for students who were being left out of the game) is long overdue. Hillary’s willingness to trash it (presumably to win the endorsement of teachers’ unions) is frightening, as is Obama’s reticence about education (and his public “blame the parent” stance). The prospect of increased funding with decreased accountability as being the best we are likely to get does not bode well for US in the global economy.

  9. Allen said, “This is as good as it gets under the current system. If we want better we’re going to have to change the current system in fundamental ways.”

    If this is as good as it gets, then God help the USA. Better to do what you suggest: Change the system in fundamental ways. Let’s start with the following: My money follows my child to whereever I choose to send him to school. Given that, we can then quibble about accountability.

    Margo/Mom said, “My district has closed some schools where enrollment is low, but none for poor performance.” Exactly. And NO school will ever be closed for poor performance. Accountability from the government top down does not work because it cannot work. The tearing of hair and rendering of garments that you see are by parents and future employers who are increasingly frustrated by expensive, inefficient, and unproductive school systems.

  10. Allen does have some good points. Accountability is necessary, and we do have schools where for decades almost no one has made a serious effort to teach much of anything. Educators brought NCLB down upon us.

    That said, it’s not what we need. We need leaders and freedom. Instead, we are governed by dishonest and unintelligent policies hacked together in distant places that entangle us in cant and posturing.

    I have no solutions to offer, but I go to work each day and work on falling in love with kids and helping them get through rough spots and talk, whenever they can listen, about the things I have found worth loving.

    We live in a moral universe and goodness and truth will prevail. But bad stuff gets lots of latitude and does lots of harm.

  11. Well don’t go sticking your head in the oven just yet, anon. The rest of the world does education largely the way we do and the rest of the world gets somewhat better or somewhat worse results depending on who you ask and how you measure. I don’t think we’ve got to invoke God’s help just yet.

    But if, as I’ve come to believe, the most immediate problem is an excess of administration which is the inevitable outcome of the school district then the answer’s obvious: get rid of the school district, i.e. charters. New Orleans seems furthest down that road which may indicate just how tough it’ll be to bring an end to the grip of school districts on public education although I’m hoping as time goes on it’ll require less then a catastrophic natural disaster to do the deed.

  12. Allen said, “But if, as I’ve come to believe, the most immediate problem is an excess of administration which is the inevitable outcome of the school district then the answer’s obvious: get rid of the school district, i.e. charters.”

    You won’t get any argument from me about administrators, Allen. But, one must look at why there are so many administrators and why they thrive in schools. The answers are: a) funding that comes to school districts no matter what they do (see above); and b) lack of competition (see above). I don’t want charters–I want real choice and unlimited competition. I want everybody’s money to follow their children to whereever they want to send their child. (No, I don’t mind some of my money helping poor kids to do the same thing.) Tax credits for parents who send their kids to good schools would be fine with me. If there were REAL competition, bad schools would close for lack of enrollment and the number of administrators would shrink rather dramatically.

    The school my children attend is a testament to what I want. There are 250 students in four grades and one and one-half administrators. No curriculum directors, no supervisors, etc. Parents who believe in the school and devote hours to it. Discipline from teachers and students who are self-disciplined. An average ACT score of 29. All that’s missing is the thousands of dollars that I pay for tuition (well spent) and the thousands of dollars that I also pay for other people’s children to attend the public schools in my district that proceed to waste the money on administrators, lousy curriculum, low standards, and athletics (poorly spent).

  13. Within a school district the number of administrative personnel is a function of funding; the more you’ve got the more you’ve got. That’s why municipal school districts tend to have lots of administrative personnel. Big, fat budgets tend to have lots of crevices and hidden areas for administrative infections to fester. Some rural districts have virtually no central administrative personnel with the district superintendent doubling a school principle.

    The lack of competition’s due to the apparent political isolation of one school district from the other. There actually is competition but it’s a poor sort of a thing and you have to ask the right people to find out about but if you do ask the right people, real estate agents, they’ll give you a pretty good idea of which district’s good and which stinks.

    As competitions go it’s not very exciting stuff. The careers of superintendents aren’t going to be made due to their ability to raise property values by raising academic performance. It is a sort of competition but it’s a sad, pathetic thing that’s easily overlooked and ignored.

    > I don’t want charters–I want real choice and unlimited competition.

    Too bad. Politics dictates that we move from what is to what’s possible and the only place you’ll find real choice and unlimited competition is in a privatized market and even in that there are lots of folks who’d swoon at the idea of bringing all that unlimited competition too heel.

    A completely privatized system just isn’t in the cards for the foreseeable future so in the spirit of the art of the possible – politics – you get a choice between maintenance of the status quo or accepting what’s within reach and that’s charters. Vouchers may or may not play a part – I suspect they won’t – but for right now it’s effectively charters or nothing.

    If it’s any comfort I believe that once charters reach some critical level of saturation or some critical absolute number there’ll be an inevitable move towards academic competitiveness. Once junior’s safety is assured it’s his education that matters. All other things being reasonably equal, the academically better school will always get the nod which will drive the lesser schools to improve or die.