Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Resolve in 2012: Abolish No Child Left Behind

   The subject here is destructive education policies. But first: Have you heard of the Capital One Cup?

   It goes to the two Division I NCAA schools that win the most titles each year in men's and women's sports.

   The prize? In addition to the glittering silver keepsake: $400,000 in athletic scholarships. Inspiring, right?

   Don't you know Texas, or Florida, or USC, or some other booster-endowed NCAA mega power could use that extra scholarship money?

    OK. It's not inspiring; it's ridiculous.

    Now, imagine that in addition to awarding college behemoths with more riches, we decreed that a gridiron patsy like Columbia, Tulane or Florida Atlantic shut down its  football program for having too bad a record.

     This brings us back to destructive education policy.

     For years states have been approaches just as screwy, praising and rewarding already wealthy suburban schools, while shuttering "failing" schools based on distinctions that bespeak the sporting term "competitive mismatch." All along it's been the University of Texas teeing it up against Prairie View A&M.

    No Child Left Behind pretends to address learning disparities, but it makes matters worse in many ways.

    It is horrifically punitive toward schools with the biggest challenges, going so far as to shut them down for failing to meet achievement targets.

    I've seen how this system hurts inner-city schools and their neighborhoods. It works this way:

    Under the Overpass Middle School, ensconced in a pocket of poverty and despair, has low test scores, for obvious reasons. Under the gun from the state and NCLB, low test scores yield a revolving door of principals ("new leadership"), faculty ("a new team") and increasingly cyclops-like ("new focus") approaches aimed at state test criteria.

   Word gets out about this "failing" school and the junkyard-dog flogging it is getting. Good teachers stay away. Families flee. Failure becomes self-fulfilling. The district shuts down Under the Overpass Middle, depriving the neighborhood of one of its few uplifting and stable features. Thanks, folks.

     Meanwhile, the students are farmed out of their neighborhood to larger, more impersonal schools. Rest assured, few policymakers live under the overpass. Any damage they've wrought, they won't feel.

    On many dimensions, what has happened under "accountability" and NCLB is hurtful. For one, the standardization drumbeat impedes high achievers who don't need a constant drone about basic skills.

    For another, it shackles teachers to a system that's not about teaching but about following a script, and wasting untold instructional hours on standardized tests,  benchmark tests and test prep.

    For the children with the greatest challenges, with test emphasis ramped up at every step, schooling is drained of the wonder factor. Dropouts ensue. Who would want this? No policymaker would ever accept his or her child being served this way.

   If it sounded like a good idea, NCLB turned out to be a horror — Frankenstein in a good suit.

   The Obama administration realizes that the monster is about to hit the wall — or crash through it —  the one requiring 100 percent "proficiency" in core subjects nationwide next school year. 

    Almost from day one this administration has urged a rewrite of NCLB. However, the Senate is frozen into irreconcilable parts, and this House is sworn to resist Obama's every twitch. Consequently, the Department of Education has set up a system of waivers for states on a case-by-case basis.

    Lawmakers are incensed by this, but they know what NCLB requires regarding "100 proficiency" is beyond the pale.

    This is the year, with Democratic frustration over NCLB's untenable realities, with Republican frustration over the federal meddling it authorizes, it's time to kill NCLB.

    Don't tweak it. Don't adjust it. Don't give it "new focus." Don't find a "new team." 

    Kill it. Kill it.

    Stop the false comparisons that result in executioner-style resolutions. Turn the ax on No Child Left Behind.

    The death of this odious initiative would amount to the happiest of new years for American school children and those who seek to educate them.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:   





1 comment:

Francesca Blueher said...

Perfection....loved your piece---agree with every syllable. I read it on susan ohanian's site. You are talking about my neighborhood school---the one my children attended, where I served as PTA President, and where I have been teaching for 11 years. We are on our 4th year running of "Restructuring II"--the destruction this label has wrought is devastating and tragic.