Surprise! You're supposed to teach kids

No Child Left Behind’s critics call it an “unfunded mandate,” notes Jay Greene. But what did schools think they were supposed to be doing pre-NCLB? Surely, they were trying to teach reading and math all along, he points out.

Let’s leave aside the fact that federal spending on education has increased 41% since passage of NCLB. And let’s leave aside that NCLB is not actually a mandate, since states do not have to comply with NCLB if they do not want Title I funds (which have increased 59% since 2001).

Besides neither being unfunded nor a mandate, the argument that NCLB is an unfunded mandate is especially odd because it makes one wonder what all of the funding that schools received before NCLB was for. It’s as if the unfunded mandate crowd is saying: “The $10,000 per pupil we already get just pays for warehousing. If you actually want us to educate kids, that’ll cost ya extra.”

NCLB “requires that states wishing to receive Title I funds have to establish goals for student success, select tests for measuring progress towards those goals, and report results from those tests broken out by subgroups,” Greene writes. The sanctions for failure are the equivalent of Dean Wormer’s “double secret probation.”

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Comments

  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Thank you Jay Greene for naming the elephant.

  2. Sort of like the airlines were to complain that FAA-required inspections of their airplanes were an “unfunded mandate.”

    Not that I wouldn’t put it past them…

  3. Consider that a big part of that increased spending was in Reading First money, a catagorical grant that couldn’t be used for other purposes. Consider, too, that there isn’t a line-item that I’m aware of where the feds pay for the testing required under NCLB; the “unfunded” appelation fits, in that context.

    Greene is floating a balloon, here, but it doesn’t go very far.

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    Ryan–so how come no states have yet decided to forego the assistance?

  5. > Consider, too, that there isn’t a line-item that I’m aware of where the feds pay for the testing required under NCLB; the “unfunded” appelation fits, in that context.

    The states are already doing testing, NCLB merely replaces, theoretically, the teeth that those test never sported.

    But don’t worry Ryan, NCLB only requires that the public education system educate in theory. In practice NCLB is hardly any more effective then the state-level testing it’s built upon.

    Oh sure, it’s an uncomfortable, even worrying development. After all, the public education system got along just fine without having to demonstrate efficacy, well, since forever. But it appears that the public patience has eroded to the point that the perennial demands for “adequate funding” and the blaming of everything in sight just isn’t working the way it used to.

  6. Similarly, educators complain about “encroachment,” the general fund expenses to teach special education children as required by, but not fully funded by, federal law. This is only an encroachment if without this law the school would like to spend its money more uniformly on every child, not giving extras to the weakest children. I spent 12 years on a school board and never heard anyone suggest they wanted to do this. Everyone favored extra help for the special education kids. In other words, complaints about encroachment were just a desire to have more money in total.

    Unfortunately these complaints about NCLB and encroachment are not the examples of clear communication or clear thinking that our educators should be providing.

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    Somehow, I hear another version of the same old teacher’s union rant here: trust us, and give us more money.

    What? Be accountable, for anything?

    But you don’t understand. To do that would not be professional…

    Bill

  8. Consider that a big part of that increased spending was in Reading First money, a catagorical grant that couldn’t be used for other purposes.

    Reading First funds the application of scientifically based reading instruction programmes.

    What could schools possibly be doing with that money that is more important than teaching kids to read?

    About the only thing I can think of is evacuating kids in the case of a fire or some other major disaster. I am prepared to say that in schools’ lists of priorities, protection of life-and-limb should come before teaching reading.

  9. And the sad thing is, Tracy, that many schools either don’t have a workable plan in place to protect the kids’ physical safety, or don’t practice it often enough for it to work.

  10. From scrutinizing our local school district budget and talking with the superintendent, it is clear to me that just complying with the procedural aspects (not the educational aspects) imposes a cost not recompensed by federal funding. Our district was already implementing the requirements of NCLB (it’s a really really good public school district, in the top 100 nationwide), but there are definitely identifiable unreimbursed changes to meet the new data collecting and reporting requirements.

    On the other hand, our superintendent is pleased that the results can be used to finally convince some of the tenured teachers that they need to do a better job or NCLB will leave them no choice.

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    NCLB isn’t an “unfunded mandate” because it isn’t a mandate.

    NCLB is an offer; districts are free to refuse it. Any district that accepts the offer and then complains that it is losing money on the deal is saying that it can’t compare two numbers and figure out which one is bigger.

  12. MarkRoulo says:

    NCLB is an offer; districts are free to refuse it.

    Can *districts* refuse? Or is the accept/refuse decision made at the state level?

    -Mark Roulo

  13. Margo/Mom says:

    Mark–I believe it is both.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    If the decision is made at the state level, the district’s beef is with the state and the state is the one who can’t compare two numbers.

    It’s unclear how the district blaming the wrong party (the feds instead of the state) makes the district look better.

    However, the NCLB thing is revealing that public school folk seem to think that every offer should work out well for them. I wonder if they’re that dumb with their own money….

    Public school advocates claim that public schools teach students how to think. What part of public school behavior suggests that public schools have significant critical thinking expertise? If they don’t have said expertise, how are they teaching it?

    Surely they didn’t take “If you can’t do, teach” as a plan….

  15. Margo/Mom says:

    Many states were already moving in the direction required by NCLB before it was implemented. While everyone seems to want someone to provide funding with no strings, there are no funders generally available (including the local voters who approve property taxes to support schools) who are willing to do so. So–talk a good game about how much all this accountability is costing us–but realize at the same time it is necessary.