Sunday, March 23, 2008

Educational Science Fiction

A few weeks ago, State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan started a statewide campaign to extend and further institutionalization the horrors of No Child Left Behind after NCLB behind expires and presumably succeeds.

I asked about this point. "Why, if No Child Left Behind succeeds will it be necessary to propagate such educational policy? And if it fails, the question becomes slightly different, why propagate a program that's failed?"

The answer was some hemming and hawing about the virtues of blah, blah, blah. Later, an E.O. Smith teacher asked, "By ratcheting up the testing, won't dropouts increase?" A good question considering E.O. Smith loses ten percent of its students to dropping out.

McQuillan and his minions responded by citing studies that indicated no such trend, blah, blah blah.

This past week the New York Times reported on NCLB's effect on school dropouts and the perversion of educational statistics. States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School by Sam Dillon reports,
Most troublesome to some experts was the way the No Child law’s mandate to bring students to proficiency on tests, coupled with its lack of a requirement that they graduate, created a perverse incentive to push students to drop out. If low-achieving students leave school early, a school’s performance can rise.

No study has documented that the law has produced such an effect nationwide. Experts say they believe many low-scoring students are prodded to leave school, often by school officials urging them to seek an equivalency certificate known as a General Educational Development diploma.

“They get them out so they don’t have them taking those tests,” said Wanda Holly-Stirewalt, director of a program in Jackson, Miss., that helps dropouts earn a G.E.D. “We’ve heard that a lot. It happens all over the system.”

After several research groups questioned graduation rates, the federal Department of Education in 2005 published an estimated rate for each state, to identify those that were reporting least accurately. The figures suggested that nine states had overstated their graduation rates by 10 to 22 percentage points.

Part of the discrepancy is because many states inflate their official rate by counting dropouts who later earn a G.E.D. as graduates or by removing them from calculations altogether.

The undercounting of dropouts can be striking.

In Mississippi, the official formula put the graduation rate for the state’s largest district, Jackson Public Schools, at 81 percent. Mr. Bounds, the state schools superintendent, said the true rate was 56 percent.

At Murrah High School, one of eight here, the official graduation rate is 99 percent, even though yearbooks show that half of Murrah’s freshmen disappear before becoming seniors. Even Murrah’s principal, Roy Brookshire, expressed surprise.

“I can’t explain how they figured that, truly I can’t,” Mr. Brookshire said.

Governors also stepped in, worried that schools were not preparing the work force their states need. In December 2005, all 50 agreed to standardize their graduation rate calculations, basing them on tracking individual students through high school.

Fifteen states have begun to use the formula, said Dane Linn, director of the education division at the National Governors Association. And it has produced some stunning revelations.

In North Carolina, the rate plummeted a year ago to 68 percent from 95 percent.
The first casualties of math and science are educational institutions themselves. For all of the flowery rhetoric of improving math and science education there is no respect or observance of accuracy within the system itself. The triumph of political partisan agendas over the welfare of children, parents, and society is no less disastrous at home than it is in Iraq.

Margaret Spellings, like her -cough- mentors in the Bush administration uses the NCLB laws like a blunt, savage instrument to torture any State that does not play along with her schemes and agendas. Never mind, that that these objectives are bad for everyone.

Recently, evidence of this abuse of power comes to light in this article, U.S. Eases ‘No Child’ Law as Applied to Some States by Sam Dillon.
The rising number of failing schools is overwhelming states’ capacities to turn them around, and states have complained that the law imposes the same set of sanctions, which can escalate to a school’s closing, on the nation’s worst schools as well as those doing a reasonable job despite some problems.

The nation’s largest teachers union as well as some research groups who study the law welcomed Ms. Spellings’s announcement. “This is something good, something we’ve been advocating,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the teachers union.

But another national teachers union and a group that has supported the law’s goals of holding schools accountable for student progress criticized the proposal.

Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration official who is vice president of the conservative Thomas Fordham Foundation, said Ms. Spellings’s proposal was similar to one put forward by Democrats seeking to rewrite the law in Congress last year, which he derided at the time as “the Suburban Schools Relief Act.”

“This policy change is likely to let affluent suburban and rural schools off the hook,” he said.

States must apply by May 2 to the federal Department of Education to participate in the pilot program, and only those whose carrying out of the law has been virtually without blemish will be considered, Ms. Spellings said.
What's that, "only those whose carrying out of the law has been virtually without blemish will be considered"!

Let's see, even a partisan government agency is admitting that the NCLB program is a failure, yet they limit the number of states who are allowed to "fix" it! (Not that it will.)

Spellings goal, along with the NEA, is to perpetuate this nasty stuff - not to fix it. Spellings and her well-compensated allies profit from this business as usual model regardless of the damage it is doing to our children.

The czarist abuse of power coming from the federal Department of Education is just another reason to dissolve the agency. The abuse of this Department by the Bush administration is reason enough to rethink and decentralize educational policy away from the abusers in Washington.

Thankfully the American Federation of Teachers has the guts to outright reject what Spellings is selling.
The two teachers unions disagreed about the proposal.

In contrast to the praise from Mr. Weaver of the National Education Association, the largest union, Antonia Cortese, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “N.C.L.B. is in need of a dramatic overhaul and cannot be patched up with Band-Aids and pilot programs.”
The AFT is being optimistic. Education has got to be rescued from the masochists and torturers that currently hold undemocratic and exclusive control over federal funding of education.

The restoration of education as a science and art cannot be achieved in Washington and never in the hands of the Bush administration. A return to accurate and honest science must be a national priority generally and education is in dire need of a shakeout on all levels.

No comments: