Ready but not proficient

No Child Left Behind’s call for all students to be proficient by 2014 was “utopian,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said. His revision of NCLB would replace that goal with higher standards “built around the goal of helping all students graduate high school college-and career-ready,” according to an Education Department statement.

“My real desire is to have a high bar for the country, a common definition for success,” Duncan told reporters. “What we’ve had is a race to the bottom, and students are not prepared for college. We want smart new standards to prepare our students and workforce.”

Eduwonk mocks:

Old NCLB meme: This law is forcing schools to dumb everything down and it’s all basic skills. But too many schools can’t clear its unrealistically high bars.

New NCLB meme: The standards in this law were unrealistically high.  So we’re going to replace it with more ambitious ones…

On National Journal’s Education Experts, Sandy Kress, a Bush education advisor, also spots the paradox.

You are said to want to abandon (not fix, change, extend, but rather abandon) the bipartisan goal set 9 years ago in NCLB of having students at the minimum bar of grade level proficiency by 2014. Apparently, this goal is “utopian,” in your mind.

Yet, you have separately said that the standards behind these goals for 2014 are “fraudulently low” and that they should be dramatically raised to “college/career ready.”

. . . This is akin to saying though we can’t high jump at 5 feet, let’s set the bar at 7 feet!

Setting a “much tougher and higher goal with no challenging annual markers and deadlines for its achievement is real fraud,” Kress says. He’s also dubious about promises to evaluate schools in a more “nuanced” way.

I predict that, whatever euphemism you give it and however many carrots you create with increased spending, if you weaken the accountability provisions of NCLB, we will see a serious falloff in achievement for students, particularly disadvantaged students.

Keep striving for universal proficiency, adds a Boston Globe editorial. The Obama administration’s new goal — a mandate for all students to leave high school “college or career ready’’ — is unclear. It could rely on faddish “21st century skills’’  such as “global awareness, media literacy, and critical thinking,” instead of academic criteria, warns the Globe.

The Christian Science Monitor also fears that “college or career ready” will prove to be a “just a sophisticated way of saying lower standards.”

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