School progress: balloon payments are due

To meet No Child Left Behind targets, many states set easy goals in the early years, then projected schools would make very rapid progress in later years, reports the New York Times. Officials hoped the law would be changed by now to lower targets. We’re not going to get 100 percent of students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014, unless “proficiency” is redefined as “sentient.” And not even then.

In about half the states, the balloon payment on progress is coming due.

Here in California, which in 2002 had only 13.6 percent of students proficient in reading, officials promised to raise that percentage on average by 2.2 points annually from 2002 to 2007, but starting this year greatly accelerate the progress, raising the percentage of proficient students by 11 points per year through 2014.

Now that the time has come for that accelerated improvement, California schools are not keeping up. This year, about half the state’s 9,800 schools fell short.

Alabama is letting schools claim adequate progress by counting half the students who scored in the “partial mastery” category as proficient. I guess the theory is that Johnny learned half the material he was supposed to in fifth grade so he counts as half a proficient student.

NCLB will be changed in the next administration, though it may take time for Congress to get around to it. I wonder what percentage of children we’ll agree to “leave behind.” Probably, we’ll see broader exemptions for special-education students and English Language Learners plus a progress formula that will reward schools for improving students’ skills, even if they’re not on target to reach proficiency for several centuries.

About Joanne


  1. Johnny learned half the material he was supposed to in fifth grade so he counts as half a proficient student.

    You can bet though that when nose-counting time for state funding rolls around little Johnny’ll be 100% present whether he can read or not.

  2. As much as I support the goals of NCLB, I do believe that acknowledging improvement instead of just “not meeting 100%” would make the law significantly better.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    For years we have had as our goal the educating of all the children of all the people, but this can not be achieved unless we also educate all the parents of all the children as to their responsibility for the education of their children. –Lewis Alderman (1872-1965)

    This quote from my grandfather, who worked as an educator from 1898 to 1942, demonstrates that the goals of NCLB are nothing new. Grandpa was certain he had the answer: parents. He cited a research study done in two comparable schools. One was the control. In the other, parents had monthly consultations with parents. “The teachers outlined the course of study for the ensuing month and asked the parents to encourage the children to study, to discuss their assignments with them, but not to do any of the work for them. . . The active interest of parents stimulated the children to greater effort. At the end of the term identical tests were given the two groups. The children in the experimental group showed approximately twenty per cent increase in achievement over the children in the group whose parents were not asked to cooperate.”

    This would be the way to make that balloon payment. Unfortunately the few papers notes I have of grandpa’s do not include a reference for this experiment.

    Something else Grandpa wrote about 50 years ago: This is the age of experts and the tendency on the part of some parents is to let the experts take over the entire education of their children. Education begins at home and is a family affair. While teachers do the actual instructing it is the parents’ job to prepare their children to receive instruction. Children get their ideas of what is important or unimportant and of what is right or wrong from their parents. If parents show an active interest in their children’s school, and if they cooperate with their children’s teacher, the children will know that school is important.

    It’s not just parents who rely too much on expertise. Educators, when they find children whose parents are not furthering their child’s education, often endeavor to make up the deficit themselves, expecting their training and expertise to compensate for what is missing at home. Experience has shown that teachers cannot fill the gap and that the children whose parents support their education continue to do better than those whose parents don’t.

  4. Margo/Mom says:


    It’s not so much a modern phenomenon that parents trust education to the experts. Parents for generations (let’s be honest–it’s mostly been mothers) have been driven OUT by the experts. This goes all the way back to a time early in the century when the all male NEA (about 5,000 strong) sought to “manage” the women organized through PTAs (about 900,000) by requiring them to seek educational change only through the male school administrators. Prior to that they were a significant factor in reform for children, including lobbying against child labor, for school libraries and playgrounds and various health and nutrition programs, particularly for poor children. In the 1920s they were red-baited (they were against the war) and by the 1930s had been wholly re-defined as homework helpers and fundraisers (but only with school approval).

    Recall the chapter in To Kill A Mockingbird when Scout tells her father he isn’t supposed to be teaching her to read anymore (because he might do it wrong). I hid my own reading ability in first grade–quiety reading ahead, or reading a “pleasure book” in secret.

    It’s hard to talk about filling gaps without recognizing that they are plentiful on both sides. I can guarantee that parents in well-to-do suburbs are not treated in ways that are daily occurances in urban districts. They are not defined as culturally deficient, ignorant or routinely suspected of drug abuse–or worse. I wish I were able to fill all the gaps in my son’s education–but I can’t. I think if we worked together we could do more to compensate for each other’s weaknesses, but it would take a greater willingness to allow parents in–not just in the building (although that would be a beginning), but on decision-making, on improvement discussions, on thinking about what the problems and solutions are. But to do that, we would have to first admit that there are problems, and second, admit that parents might have a contribution to make.