Tag Archives: nclb

Say what? or Have you not been paying attention?

In a lengthy and rambling blog post that has made the rounds via email, Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, responds to a National Research Council Framework for K-12 science education. He concludes with a modest proposal:

What if Congress were to set aside all its efforts at curricular reform? Tell the Department of Education: Desist. Tell the states: Keep the Common Core if you like, but there will be no “Race to the Top” bonuses for adopting it. Say goodbye to “No Child Left Behind.” Tell NRC, thanks for the Framework, but we’re not in the market. Instead, Congress would pass and the President sign a bill declaring that in 2020, nine years from now, no student who scores less than “proficient” on the mathematics portion of the National Assessment of Education Progress will be eligible for a federal student grant or loan.

Oh my. Where to begin? Can we begin with an observation that drawing conclusions about individuals is not at all what the NAEP was designed for? No, it was designed (whether you believe well or poorly) to measure national progress over time. It is given to a nationally randomized sample.

Is this nitpicking? Not when the proposal comes from the President of the National Association of Scholars (whatever that is, it seems reasonable for proposals from its president to undergo a modicum of intellectual rigor).

But this isn’t what draws me to write today. No it’s his predictions for the consequences should such a proposal be enacted:

1. The rate of math “proficiency” would zoom, well before 2020.
2. Educrats would do all in their power to dumb down the test and hollow out the meaning of “proficient.”
3. Schools would declare the standard onerous and destructive; and then miraculously make it work.
4. Colleges would find a large new source of students both capable of and eager to study the sciences.
5. The incidence of “dyscalculia” would drop precipitously.

The proposal bears an uncanny resemblance to No Child Left Behind. This demanded 100% proficiency by 2014 or districts, schools and teachers would face substantial consequences. How has this worked out? Let’s break it down.

1. Has the rate of math proficiency zoomed well before 2014? No. It was 26% in 2000 and 34% in 2009. Eight percentage points in 9 years.

2. Have educrats done all in their power to dumb down the tests? No. Whether you like Common Core or not; it’s certainly tough to make the case that CCSS represents a dumbing down of standards. Cheating at the school and district level, though? That’s something different, I’m afraid.

By the way, what is an educrat? Am I an educrat? Is Peter Wood?

3. Have schools declared the standard onerous and destructive? Yes. Have they miraculously made it work? No. Have you paid any attention to No Child Left Behind at all? Seriously. Saying it doesn’t make it so. This should be the lesson of No Child Left Behind.

4. Have colleges found a new source of students eager to study science? Ummm… No.

5. Has the incidence of dyscalculia dropped precipitously? This seems to be an odd preoccupation of Dr. Wood’s. But in his own words:

As if in anticipation of the bad news, stories about “dyscalculia” seem to be getting much more play. …[V]ery few people are altogether bereft of numerical sense. How few? Four to six percent according to dyscalculiaforum.com. “At least five percent,” according to Dr. Brian Butterworth, a cognitive neuropsychologist speaking on NPR’s “Science Friday” earlier this year. “Up to 7% of the population,” says the Science Daily article I quoted. I’ve heard estimates as high as 10 percent.

So high stakes testing over the last ten years has coincided with greater attention to dyscalculia, and Dr. Wood’s prescription for the epidemic is more high stakes testing?

Dr. Wood has less confidence in his final prediction:

6.  The racial achievement gap might narrow.

It’s just that easy? Threaten African-American children with not being able to go to college unless they perform on the NAEP? That will close the achievement gap?

Oh my.

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The handcuffs of NCLB

While taking a break from the work I was supposed to be doing recently, I found myself typing these words to a colleague:

It occurs to me that if the testing environment were not so toxic right now, we’d be ready for a real revolution in providing content. The technology is available to do a lot of open-source mathematics teaching; the ideas and community exist. But Larry and Stu aren’t really in a position where they feel they have the right/obligation/opportunity to move away from the published curriculum very far. If they toe the line and make modest progress on test scores (or none at all), they are covered. If they bust a move and see anything besides phenomenal gains in their first try, they have reason to be very, very worried. And furthermore they can’t count on collegial and administrative support along the way.

Those are the handcuffs that frustrate me. Without the constraints of NCLB, we wouldn’t need the big publishers much longer.

Within the constraints of NCLB, we get Khan Academy (which gets called ‘revolutionary’ but is not) and teachers are free to reform grading (SBG anyone?). But we don’t get meaningful curriculum change; least of all open-source curriculum.

Kozol: Still Going Strong

Jonathan Kozol was interviewed this week for an EdWeek blog:

The testing agenda that [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan is perpetuating is segregative and divisive… In inner-city schools, where principals are working with a sword of threats and punishments above their heads — for fear that they’ll be fired if they cannot “pump the scores” — they inevitably strip down the curriculum to those specific items that are going to be tested, often devoting two-thirds of the year to prepping children for exams. There’s no time for arts or music or even for authentic children’s books like the joyful works that rich kids still enjoy. No time for Pooh and Eeyore and The Hungry Caterpillar. “What help would lovely books like these be on their standardized exams?” Instead, the kids get pit-pat readers keyed to the next miserable tests that they’ll be taking. So culture is starved. Aesthetics are gone. Joy in learning is regarded as a bothersome distraction.

It has certainly been my experience in working with teachers that time to wonder and admire the beauty in ideas is greatly diminished in the era of No Child Left Behind.

I’m glad to see the man is still outraged.

Please raise your hand if you didn’t see this coming

I promise not to get worked up here.

But really. Are we surprised to learn that saying it doesn’t make it so? My six-year old is surprised by this fact, but adult educational policy makers?

Big education news this week (this from the New York Times):

The Obama administration has been facing a mounting clamor from state school officials to waive substantial parts of the law, which President Bush signed in 2002, especially its requirement that states bring 100 percent of students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014 or else face sanctions. In March, Mr. Duncan predicted that the law would classify 80,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools as failing this fall unless it was amended.

Once you have committed to the title No Child Left Behind (NO Child Left Behind), you have to commit to 100 percent proficiency, right? Not something that rounds to 100 percent. 100%.

Seriously, who didn’t see this coming ten years ago?

Please note that the passage above suggests 80,000 out of 100,000 public schools would be sanctioned this fall. But that doesn’t mean the remaining 20,000 are at 100%. No, it means they are still making adequate yearly progress towards 100% in 2014. Or that they have been until quite recently.

Which is still three years away.