Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Excellent Commentary on NCLB

I'll quote here from The DeHavilland Blog, wherein lies much wisdom on the No Child Left Behind Act:

Right off the bat, we get to the core difference between me and Dr. Wheatley (his antagonist--Darren): we simply see public education differently. Dr. Wheatley (as he’ll affirm later in this note) gives primacy to the people inside the system – NCLB is a disaster because educators (who are Ohanian’s audience) and others within the industry say it’s a disaster. In this world view, the public education system is an end in itself, and it is the people inside the system who should set the objectives and methods of learning. The people outside the system should have no voice in determining why we educate, how we educate, what we teach, or how we measure progress and success.

For me, public education is a means to an end – external stakeholders (citizens, business, etc.) pay for the public education system and therefore have the right and responsibility to state what we want it to accomplish. The people inside the system are paid to fulfill the objectives set forth by the citizen taxpayers who fund the system.

NCLB came about because the people who fund public education were not satisfied with the system’s outcomes and wanted some way to start gathering independent information on what’s going on in our schools. And while there are any number of flaws in this first effort at accountability (and yes, everyone thinks it can be improved), it has succeeded in providing new information to stakeholders, and more importantly, a focus on outcomes to everyone involved in education...

I would also say that NCLB and school choice (which is where the privatization concept falls in) are simply two different approaches to increasing school quality. If you had a free market for schools, you wouldn’t have NCLB – competition would ensure quality. And if you had strong performance on independent accountability (a la NCLB), there would be little interest in school choice...

And in terms of validity - how can the validity of a test drop when we attach consequences? Either a test is a valid measure of knowledge and skills, or it is not. It certainly becomes more important due to the addition of consequences – and it may cause anxiety – but it does not affect validity...

Dr. Wheatley’s arguments in the previous two paragraphs (not quoted here--Darren) seem to focus entirely on the quality of the tests being administered, not on whether we should have independent assessment. Considering that the states (not the federal government) determine what is measured and how it is assessed, surely there’s at least one state doing it right? And if not even one of 50 states can get assessment right, then how can we trust them on the other elements of education...

One thing that would be helpful would be to see an alternate proposal for accountability. If you want to eliminate NCLB but believe in establishing a meaningful accountability system, what would that look like? (And when I say meaningful, I would include words like ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ in that definition – I don’t believe there’s much meaning in having the same person who teaches the child also oversee evaluation – there’s too much conflict of interest...)

I’ll wrap by disagreeing with his last statement. Dr.Wheatley says that we’ve all been duped by the promise of NCLB – I would argue that we’ve been duped for decades with faulty information on school performance, and that NCLB (or at least the spirit of NCLB) is an important first step on the road to a solution.

Yeah, what he said.


Lillian Perry said...

I'm for NCLB and I defend it's right to exist.
Excellent statement of support!!!

Mike said...

An alternative assessment to NCLB? Hmm.

Do we really believe that prior to NCLB, and the related general imposition of mandatory, high stakes testing, that there was no way for the citizens of a given school district to determine whether students were being given a proper educational opportunity? Do we believe that without NCLB-like data, local teachers and administrators are utterly incompetent and/or deceptive and will do their utmost to deny children an opportunity at educational opportunity? How in God's name have generation after generation of Americans managed to build the most successful, accomplished, dynamic, innovative and inventive society in human history prior to the invention and imposition of NCLB?

We're spending billions fixing schools that aren't broken. Notice that I did not say that every school isn't in need of improvement, but the overwhelming majority of American schools do well indeed. "School choice?" There is a reason that our education system as evolved to its present state: It is extraordinarily expensive, expensive beyond the ability of private enterprise, to build, maintain and supply schools. It is an enterprise that must be funded publically, and that directly benefits the public. Schools are not businesses. They do not and cannot "compete" as though they were producing better french fries and burgers than the burger stand down the street. The kind of bizarre free educational market that would improve public education through competition that some envision may be well intentioned, but fails to take into acount the realities of human nature and of the operation of schools.

As an on-the-front-lines-every day teacher, I have to aks whether any program proposed to save education, or to impose accountability, etc. will in fact, make my job any easier or help, in any real way, to help me to provide a better educational opportunity to my students. The verdict on NCLB and high stakes testing is, quite simply, no. They don't, in any way, help me or my students. I don't have time for what doesn't work, or for those who would try to impose it on me.

Darren said...

As a fellow on-the-front-lines teacher, I have to disagree with you.

I think our schools are in trouble precisely because they *don't* take the realities of human nature into account. I believe that competition *can* improve schools--nothing else has worked. We've had the "I know what's best for my students, leave me as the professional alone" period--it was called the '90s, and neither the public nor business was too pleased with our product.

I agree that education should be publicly funded, but that doesn't mean I think public education as it stands now is the way to go. Universal Public Education is a good thing, public schools are decidedly less so.

I welcome a world of competition. What do you have to fear?

Lillian said...

As a survivor of public schools, I know that many children were being left behind, particularly lower socio economic and minority children. The formerly wide achievement gap cannot be denied.
However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I respect that right. Some folks don't believe that the Holocaust really took place.
Just ask a survivor of a concentration camp.
There are some folks that don't believe that schools were actually segregated,
and NCLB is the best thing to happen to public education since Brown v Board of Education in 1954 (which my cousin George argued and won with two other lawyers).
I'm personally looking forward to seeing more competition, and the steady improvement in our public schools which will result from it.
America is a self-correcting country, but only when we stop denying that we need to correct some things.

Ellen K said...

How do you address the necessity for additional money to be spent in schools when most research state that parental involvement is one of the key indicators of student success? We can't entice or drag parents to the high school for a PTSA meeting. They would rather write blank checks to provide services than get their own hands dirty. Ironically, if a kid fails, the parents are there, after the fact, in your face accusing and demanding change. How can we as teachers exact change in student behavior, when their parents seem so out of the loop? While I know there are always the failed teacher and abusive coach out there, for the most part teachers work like crazy to jump through hoops of fire in the form of reports and remediation. When do we get to expect the students and parents to play a part in this process? Right now I have three seniors petitioning for credit because of excessive absences that were excused by their parents. Don't they bear some responsibility in this situation? I mean, to paraphrase, you can lead a student to knowledge, but you can't make them THINK. That's why we end up with colleges that have remedial programs.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I know that parents are a vital part of education. But, we are not able to blow off our responsibilty to educate. When I was a cop the big new thing was "community policing." While we could not depend on civilians to do our job, we could invite them into the process to see how their money is being spent. It worked. The citizens wanted to help. Imagine that! We in education could do the same. If the citizens have the knowledge they need they will, I think, respond. I thought I was naive when I was a cop. I found out I wasn't. I think the same will apply in education. We need to open our classrooms to the parents and let them look inside. They will probably respond to our dedication and expertise. Or will they? I can only hope. My classroom is open. Come on in.

Ellen K said...

In our community, we have tried all kinds of things to entice parental involvement. We have Moms Clubs and Dads Clubs with the idea that maybe single parents would want to participate. We have scheduled meetings into the evening to accommodate working parents. We have implemented a phone service that calls to let parents know of school events or emergencies. We have written letters, sent emails, called-but for some parents in this affluent community, we don't even have accurate cell phone numbers. How can we communicate with people that don't even let us know where they can be reached in the event of an emergency with their child? It's this overwhelming sense of shrugging parental responsibility and then turning and demanding that schools take up the slack. How can we do that when we have parents who don't even check if their kid is at home on a school night? How can we be held totally responsible, when we have kids whose parents don't even bother to check their grades-which are online? While I will continue to do my best, I am a parent, and I have seen how too many parents drift away from the job when their kids hit middle school. When I have kids who are involved in truly sordid alcohol, drug and sex situations, that I cannot tell parents about for fear of litigation, then what can I do other than wring my hands and wait for the ax to fall? At some point the requirements of parenting needs to be made clear to many of these folks. And for every person that says 'that's not me' there are two others that this clearly identifies.

Lillian said...

One of the most overlooked components of NCLB is the Parent Involvement factor.
Charter schools are making gains beyond other public schools, simply because they incorporate this component into their policies. Parents sign contracts before their students are enrolled in a charter school.
Wouldn't it be nice to have schools execute a signed agreement with parents at every non-charter public school in California?
A binding contract with parents is what Dr. Rod Paige had in mind when he authored the NCLB mandate.
One of the problems is that most people who are against NCLB, have never even read the law in it's entirety. Perhaps it's just that they didn't comprehend it when they did read it.

Brett said...

I'm a staunch advocate of engaging parents in education, along with every other group with a stake in its outcomes (business, etc.). However, when people complain about a lack of parental engagement or community support, they fail to mention that these community members are not being asked in as full partners, but rather as worker bees - fulfilling the tasks assigned to them by the schools.

If you don't think the schools are doing a good job, and/or if you feel that your voice is not being heard, why would you spend your time by doing minimum-wage work or supporting instructional approaches with which you don't agree?

Consider, on the other hand, if a school was to say to parents and others, "look - public education is a community endeavor, and we need you - the community - to tell us what it is you want from the school. Once we set that goal, we'll work together to figure out how to make it happen." What would happen then?

I expect you'd see a lot more participation - and a much better education - than you're seeing now.