Tuesday, October 16, 2007

NCLB Implosion in CA

Today the New York Times reports on the tsunami of failing schools all showing up in poor communities in CA and a bellwether for the rest of the country. Called, Failing Schools Strain to Meet U.S. Standard by Diana Jean Schemo the article is brimming with the same misconceptions and bromides that haven't a snowball's chance in hell of furthering the debate.
For the past half-dozen years, not even one in five students at her district’s teeming high schools has been able to do grade-level math or English. At Abraham Lincoln High School this year, only 7 in 100 students could. At Woodrow Wilson High, only 4 in 100 could.

For chronically failing schools like these, the No Child Left Behind law, now up for renewal in Congress, prescribes drastic measures: firing teachers and principals, shutting schools and turning them over to a private firm, a charter operator or the state itself, or a major overhaul in governance.

But more than 1,000 of California’s 9,500 schools are branded chronic failures, and the numbers are growing. Barring revisions in the law, state officials predict that all 6,063 public schools serving poor students will be declared in need of restructuring by 2014, when the law requires universal proficiency in math and reading.

“What are we supposed to do?” Ms. Paramo asked. “Shut down every school?”
No amount of turning schools into a game of musical chairs will escape the fact that with or without NCLB, schools in poor communities have a difficult time educating the transient hordes of students passing through their doors.

There's no testing required. This fact of educational life has been well-known for a long, long time. There is nothing wrong with the physical plants or the teachers per se.

The article continues.
Under the No Child law, a school declared low-performing for three years in a row must offer students free tutoring and the option to transfer. After five years, such schools are essentially treated as irredeemable, with the law prescribing starting over with a new structure, new leadership or new teachers. But it also gives schools the option of less sweeping changes, like reducing school size or changing who is in charge of hiring.
The law of course is a fool's errand suggested by history's biggest fool of all. What is well-known about reading and math skills is that they must be acquired early in the educational cycle and interventions must occur early as well and by early we are talking about by grade four. This is not to say there won't be exceptions but this is educationally bankable stuff. And class size is most meaningful in the early grades after which it is subjective to many factors but largely irrelevant on the whole.

Numerous studies show that reading and math skills are extremely difficult to acquire once the elementary school window passes. Blaming teachers, schools, administrators, hiring policies, students, homework, poverty, color, class, and politics is a waste of time unless you are a well-paid Department of Education hack.

In other words, expecting Jr. High and High schools to reverse or correct the absence of fundamental learning skills is a mean, unwarranted political game sponsored by the most morally bankrupt of all American administrations ever.

The article continues.
Not all states are facing huge numbers of failing schools. Some were late establishing testing systems, and so lack results over five or more years. Others may have small poor populations, better teaching or easier exams.

But the tensions voiced here are echoed by parents elsewhere, as well as by school officials.

At Woodrow Wilson High one recent morning, teachers broke into small groups over coffee studying test scores for areas of weakness. But there were limits to what they would learn.

The teachers analyzed results for the entire school, not for their own students. Roberto Martinez, the principal, said he had not given teachers the scores of their own students because their union objects, saying the scores were being used to evaluate teachers.

“And who suffers?” asked Veronica Garcia, an English teacher at Wilson. “The kids suffer, because the teacher never gets feedback.”
In conversations I hold with teachers, they tell me this myth is a wholesale lie. Teachers are very aware of what their students are doing in terms of educational progress. NCLB adds nothing to understanding the progress of students except to arbitrarily punish students, teachers and schools for the uniqueness of every student's progress. Students are no longer allowed to learn at their own pace. Today they are expected to be good Nazis and conform to master race specifications drawn up by this administration's Ministries Of Formal Orthodoxies (MOFOs).

There's more.
When Gonzalo struggled over equations, she said, his teacher called him slow rather than going over the material again. Ms. Sanchez said that she had complained, but that the teacher had denied the comment. It was only through the private tutoring, available under No Child Left Behind that he managed to pass seventh grade math, she said.

The principal, Joseph P. Santana, said he did not recall Ms. Sanchez’s complaining, but could not rule it out. “There are 1,600 of them,” he said, referring to the students, “and only one of me.”

Still, Ms. Sanchez is not a big fan of the law. Just weeks into the school year, she said, teachers are focusing almost solely on material likely to appear on state exams. Forget about igniting a passion in children, she said.

“Maybe the system is not designed for people like us,” she said.
No, Ms. Sanchez, the system is killing our children's future - rich and poor. And the veneer of success by spending money ofn private tutors to pass tests will never disguise the fact that our kids don't know how to learn.

The schools aren't broken, the system is perverse, sick, and a disgrace to this country. But then again, this is Bush country.

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