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December 11, 2007

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Getting Past 'No Child'

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Getting Past 'No Child'
By George F. Will
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/07/AR2007120701980.html
Sunday, December 9, 2007; Page B07

No Child Left Behind, supposedly an antidote to the "soft bigotry of low expectations," has instead spawned lowered standards. The law will eventually be reauthorized because doubling down on losing bets is what Washington does. But because NCLB contains incentives for perverse behavior, reauthorization should include legislation empowering states to ignore it.

NCLB was passed in 2001 as an extension of the original mistake, President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became law in the year of liberals living exuberantly -- 1965, when Great Society excesses sowed the seeds of conservatism's subsequent ascendancy. ESEA was the first large Washington intrusion into education K through 12.

NCLB was supported by Republicans reluctant to vastly expand that intrusion but even more reluctant to oppose a new president's signature issue. This expansion of Washington's role in the quintessential state and local responsibility was problematic for three reasons.

First, most new ideas are dubious, so the federalization of policy increases the probability of continentwide mistakes. Second, education is susceptible to pedagogic fads and social engineering fantasies -- schools of education incubate them -- so it is prone to producing continental regrets. Third, America always is more likely to have a few wise state governments than a wise federal government.

With mandated data collections -- particularly tests of "adequate yearly progress" in reading and math -- NCLB was supposed to generate information that would enable schools to be held accountable for cognitive outputs commensurate with federal financial inputs. Bad data would make schools blush and reform.

Fourteen months ago, the president said, "The gap is closing. . . . How do we know? Because we're measuring." But about those measurements . . .

NCLB requires states to identify, by criteria they devise, "persistently dangerous schools." But what state wants that embarrassment? The Post recently reported that last year, of America's approximately 94,000 public schools, the "persistently dangerous" numbered 46. There were none among the 9,000 schools in amazingly tranquil California.

NCLB's crucial provisions concern testing to measure yearly progress toward the goal of "universal proficiency" in math and reading by 2014. This goal is America's version of Soviet grain quotas, solemnly avowed but not seriously constraining. Most states retain the low standards they had before; some have defined proficiency down.

So says "The Proficiency Illusion," a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which studies education reform. Its findings include: 

The rationale for standards-based reform was that expectations would become more rigorous and uniform, but states' proficiency tests vary "wildly" in difficulty, "with 'passing scores' ranging from the 6th percentile to the 77th." Indeed, "half of the reported improvement in reading, and 70 percent of the reported improvement in mathematics, appear idiosyncratic to the state test." In some states, tests have become more demanding; but in twice as many states, the tests in at least two grades have become easier. NCLB encourages schools to concentrate their efforts on the relatively small number of students near the state test's proficiency minimum -- the students who can most help the state meet its "adequate yearly progress" requirements.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican who represents western Michigan's culturally cohesive Dutch Calvinist communities, opposed NCLB from the start because he thought it would "tear apart the bond between the schools and the local communities." He believes the reauthorized version of NCLB will "gut" accountability. He is gloomily sanguine about that because he thinks accountability belongs at the local level anyway and because removing meaningful accountability removes NCLB's raison d'etre. He proposes giving states the option of submitting to Washington a "Declaration of Intent" to reclaim full responsibility for K-12 education. Such states would receive their portion of K-12 funds as block grants.

But Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, warns that Washington, with its unsleeping hunger for control, steadily attaches multiple strings to block grants. He proposes to allow states to opt out from under NCLB's mandates and regulations and to give residents of those states tax credits equal to the portion of their taxes their state would have received back in federal funds for K-12 education. Garrett thinks that this could be a template for states to escape many entanglements with Washington.

NCLB intensified what Paul Posner of George Mason University calls "coercive federalism." Kenneth Wong and Gail Sunderman of Brown University and the Harvard Civil Rights Project, respectively, say NCLB "signaled the end of 'layer cake' federalism and strengthened the notion of 'marble cake' federalism, where the national and subnational governments share responsibilities in the domestic arena." Hoekstra's and Garrett's proposals would enable states to push Washington toward where it once was and where it belongs regarding K through 12 education: Out. georgewill@washpost.com

EdWatch has developed a "NCLB Briefing Packet" for your congressional candidates. The Democratic majority in Congress, working closely with the NEA, is proposing what it calls "reforms" to NCLB. As you would expect, these "reforms" make a terrible law even worse. They pretend to oppose NCLB; all the while they are working to make it worse.

Candidates for Congress need to hear from you that opposition to NCLB should be part of their 2008 campaign. The NEA is making "reform" of NCLB part of their candidates' campaigns, but the NEA  is misleading its own members by pretending to oppose NCLB, all the while supporting "reforms" that will keep it in place and even expand its hold on schools. Alternative and much better legislation would eliminate NCLB. Candidates should run their campaigns to end NCLB, not mend it. See "NEA/Hillary Clinton Back NCLB."

Order your copy or copies of "NCLB Briefing Packet." ($5.00 each) Email here or call 952-361-4931.


For more detailed information about No Child Left Behind, see the book AMERICA'S SCHOOLS: The Battleground for Freedom.


American Education Fails Because It Isn't Education
By Tom DeWeese

The debate over public education grows more heated. Regularly, reports are released showing that the academic abilities of American students continue to fall when compared to those in other countries.

Twenty years ago the U.S. ranked first in the world in the number of young adults who had high school diplomas and college degrees. Today we rank ninth and seventh, respectively, among industrialized nations. Compared to Europe and Asia, 15-year-olds in the United States are below average in applying math skills to real-life tasks. The United States ranks 18 out of 24 industrialized nations in terms of relative effectiveness of its education system. Knowledge in history, geography, grammar, civics and literature are all in decline in terms of academic understanding and achievement.

To solve the crisis, politicians, community leaders, and the education community all preach the same mantra. Students fail, they tell us, because "expectations haven't been set high enough." We need more "accountability," they say. And every education leader and nearly every politician presents the same "solution" to the education crisis: more money, better pay for teachers, and smaller classroom numbers so the children get enough attention from the teachers. Read entire article here.


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952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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