Monday, February 12, 2007

Potential Changes to NCLB

I'm a big supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act, but have admitted in other posts that it has some provisions that could stand to be improved. If these changes are among them, that would be a step in the right direction:

The five-year-old federal law is scheduled to be rewritten this year, and the lawmakers in charge say they will try to change the rules for special-education students and recent immigrants. The aim is to inject more common sense into the law while sticking with its promise to leave no child behind.


Mike said...

For any conservative worthy of the title, NCLB is an abomination and a clear repudiation of the soul of conservatism: small government. While one can reasonably agree with the goal of high standards of acheivement/performance, or with hiring only well qualified teachers, to see NCLB as the vehicle for attaining those (and other) goals is a fundamentally flawed vision.

Why flawed? NCLB presupposes that so many American schools are flawed and irrideemable that only drastic, draconian action can save them. Simple logic and every day experience is sufficient to refute this line of reasoning.

NCLB aso presupposes that only federal mandates (and the threat of federal punishment) can solve whatever problems it seeks to address. The ability of state and local governments to address local problems is stymied only when voters don't do their part in democracy. Federal intervention cannot solve that problem, but it's a handy policical club.

NCLB solves these problems through, in part, high stakes, mandatory testing. Would everyone who believes that a single test score--or set of test scores--reveals all that is necessary to know about a given school, its teachers, or students raise there hand? Yes, I know that there are other mandated statistical measures. The same applies to them.

But it all comes down to this: At one time, the conservative movement wanted nothing more than the complete abolition of the federal Department of Education, and for reasons that are as meaningful and urgent now as they were in the past. That our Secretary of Education spends most of her time fact-finding in foreign lands is only part of the evidence that federal intervention is not the way to solve local problems, and is usually terribly destructive to all involved.

Darren said...

My support for NCLB comes more from Realpolitik than it does from a dogmatic support of conservatism. Since we're *not* getting rid of the Department of Education and we're *not* getting rid of federal spending on education, I at least want some assurance that the federal education money we spend is doing something to improve the achievement of students.

And while a single test doesn't tell you all you need to know about a student, it *does* give you a snapshot of whether this student is learning or not, especially over time. Would anyone who thinks our schools are as good as they could be please raise his/her hand?

allen said...

Repudiation of the soul of conservatism? Only if you feel ignoring reality is part of the soul of conservatism.

NCLB, like Title One, exists. It's a political fact of life and refusing to acknowledge that fact of life isn't a measure of fidelity to conservative ideals. It's a measure of self-delusion or self-involvement.

NCLB is an extension of Title One and was enacted, at least in part, due to widespread abuse of Title One funds. I don't think there's any conflict between political conservatism and a desire to assure that government funding is being used as directed. If there's some fundamental flaw in demanding that we get what we pay for then it's not obvious to me.

But NCLB is only a short-term fix. Politics being what it is, NCLB and DOE become the loci of political pressure and given enough time one or both will yield. While the rest of the political establishment will move on to other, more pressing concerns, those effected by NCLB will be unrelenting in their efforts to blunt the law.

NCLB is a political fix for a political problem. It should never be forgotten that public education is a political creation, like NCLB, and responds primarily to political considerations and pressure, like NCLB.

Mike said...

Dear Darren and Allen:

NCLB is indeed a political animal, however, one need not be wedded to any political philosophy for its own sake to believe it to be the wrong solution for problems that may or may not exist in a given location.

Do I think that our schools are as good as they could be? No. But that question could be asked, and receive the same answer at any time in human history. No human endeavor has ever reached perfection. So while it is wise to strive for the highest level of performance we can reasonable attain, suggesting that we must be driven by the realization that our schools aren't as good as they could be is not helpful. They have never been as good as they could be and never will. We don't live in Lake Wobegon, and not everyone can be above average.

Rather, I would ask anyone who suggests that our schools are failing be required to name the specific school(s), provide their addresses, and explain, in some detail, by which measures they have arrived at this conclusion. We can then discuss specific causes and solutions for those schools that need them, and leave the rest to do what they do well every day.

It is not a slavish devotion to a philosophy of conservatism that drives me here, but the realization that at least one aspect of conservative principle is correct: Small government is best, particularly small federal government.

And Allen, you're correct. In time the pendulum will swing back, NCLB will be a memory and people who remember it at all will wonder why anyone could have been so dense as to imagine that it was useful in the first place. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't, through reasoned advocacy and argument, help to hasten its demise on the ash heap of bad education ideas.

Anonymous said...

If you support the NCLB Act, you're not qualified to be a teacher.

Darren said...

Actually, under NCLB, I *am* a qualified teacher. But good of you to be so open-minded as to rule me out for professionalism based on one political belief I hold.

Mike, your comment about looking back on NCLB--hopefully we'll look back on many bad laws some day, and even a few bad Supreme Court rulings. Until then, it's a law I agree with and I find useful. And if you honestly don't think there are schools out there with atrocious programs, graduation rates, standardized test scores, and any other metric you can think of, well, "struthious" is a word you should look up.

Anonymous said...

That's like saying: "based on the law that cows aren't stupid, cows are *not* stupid." The NCLB act is stupid itself, and thus, does *not* necessarily make you a qualified teacher.

Darren said...

Then please feel free to file a complaint with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

And your qualifications are, anonymous?

Anonymous said...

I will.

Darren said...

"Darren supports NCLB. You should revoke his credential." Somehow, I don't see that going very far. But if you must....

Anonymous said...

LOL yeah you're prob. right. Maybe I can get your blogging liscence revoked!!!!oeneoeneoeneoen



Mike said...

Dear Darren:

Part of my point is that there are indeed bad schools. But we fix them by focusing on those particular schools and expecting the electoral mechanisms in place in those schools to do the repair work. School boards elected by and responsible to the public; superintendents appointed by and responsible to the school boards; principals appointed by and responsible to the superintendents and teachers appointed by and responsible to the principals. Accountability is built in at every step and the federal goverment is not necessary nor it is helpful. Dealing with real problems takes the approach of, to use a military example, a sniper rifle. NCLB is a hand grenade, striking not only the worthy targets, but those that should be left alone.

I too, under NCLB am a highly qualified teacher, and Anonymous is quite frankly being absurd suggesting that anyone who supports NCLB is unqualified to teach. It is, of course, quite possible to hold differing views on education issues and those views generally have no bearing whatever on teaching fitness.

Regarding "struthious" I can only suppose that you're suggesting that anyone not supporting NCLB is ostrich-like. If so, you're sounding much more like Anonymous than yourself. By the way, as a teacher of English and a voracious reader of science, among other topics, I did not have to look up the word.

Darren said...

You know what struthious means? Bully for you! It's among my favorite words, and so few know its meaning. Bravo! (seriously)

Let's review what I said:

And if you honestly don't think there are schools out there with atrocious programs, graduation rates, standardized test scores, and any other metric you can think of, well, "struthious" is a word you should look up.

Certainly you don't disagree, do you? That's not saying that disagreeing with NCLB makes one struthious, rather that ignoring the problem schools is. While I agree that there should be more focus on the horrible schools, which is how I interpreted what you said, I see no problem with a little pushing on the schools that are just OK. While everyone cannot reach it, excellence *is* the standard.

You and I disagree on whether NCLB improves anything, even the horrible schools. I appreciate that we can disagree without name-calling, and that you present yourself and your thoughts so well here.

Mike said...

Dear Darren:

Thanks too for your rational presentation. I agree that NCLB may push some schools to some improvement. However, I believe that to be most properly the job of the local districts.

People get the schools they deserve. If the citizens in a given school district are so disengaged, politically correct, etc. that they allow their students to be poorly served, that is indeed tragic for the kids, but there is much that is unfortunate about life. It is dangerous in the extreme to expect government, particularly the federal government, to solve all such problems, in education, or otherwise. It is and should be the job of local governments, using the time-tested tools that exist and work well when properly applied, to solve their own problems.

Personal responsibility remains a hallmark of conservatism, nannystateism a hallmark of liberalism. To which philosophy is NCLB most attuned?

Darren said...

Conservatives also like accountability. Let's remember that NCLB isn't required--states don't have to follow its mandates. They also don't have to take the federal education money, either. In that way it's *not* nannystatism, as the states have a choice. California could *choose* to give up approximately 7% of its education budget if it didn't want to follow NCLB, that 7% being the number I've heard bandied about for the amount the feds kick in to our schools.

Mike said...


Thanks for illuminating my point. And you are correct in that the states may choose to ignore NCLB and opt out of federal funding. However, virtually all of us are more directly affected by the mandates of our state departments of education.
As has been observed, NCLB, and virtually everything the Federal DOE does is highly politicized, the state DOE's only slightly less so. This still leaves the individual school and teacher with little control over local problems, and with overbearing and often harmful interference as few, if any states will opt out of federal funding, and teachers/schools have no say in the matter whatever. It is not a matter of choice for those of us in the frontline, but a matter of whose insane mandates we must waste considerable time and effort trying to implement.

Even though some of the goals of NCLB and other state or federal mandates are worthy, it should not be their business, but the business of the local schools to solve local problems where they exist. Where they do not, well, no solution is necessary.
That some of the goals sought may be worthy does not legitimize federal mandates and the concurrent destruction of local control.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I bemoan the provisions regarding kids with special needs and immigrant students, as well.

But I view NCLB as a bad law violating the principle of local control, and given that federal money only funds 8% of school budgets around here, some (usually small and rural) districts have actually decided to forgo federal funds rather than attempt to do the merry two-steps required under the law.

Anonymous said...

How are we as parents supposed to trust the educational system? When teachers are fixing tests to make their students pass exams due to the “No Child Left Behind” mandate. This is ridiculous. Maybe they should reevaluate NCLB?? Check out

Darren said...

Don't trust it--that's my point.

The problem you point out is with people who cheat, not with the law.