Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flash mob against No Child Left Behind

    This is Quebec souring on maple syrup.

    This is France joining the Coalition of the Willing.

    This is Alabama lawmakers swearing off public use of Bible verses.

    This is Texas seeking a waiver from No Child Left Behind.

    For those current-events challenged, the first three are fanciful, as in "never in a million years." The fourth actually happened, and what do you think of that?

    Texas, of course, is the cradle of "school accountability," and of the presidential soarings of George W. Bush, who made the franchise national. Many of us, particularly the parents and teachers of teachers of our school children, long came to know the spawn of Texas' crib as a real-life Rosemary's baby.

    This week Texas got in under the wire to become one of 41 -- count 'em, 41 states -- to seek a waiver from many of NCLB's suffocating requirements.

   Basically, say these 41, "If there's going to be any suffocating, it will be at our hands."

   NCLB, said new Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, has become an "obsolete system that does not 

adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state's schools."

   Among the considerations: By NCLB's taunting definitions, less than half, 47.8 percent, of Texas schools, and less than a third of its school districts — 27.6 percent —made "adequate yearly progress" this year.

    It should be said that Williams worked in the Bush administration's Department of Education. Oh, how those mantras must have resonated with him and all those — of both parties — who saluted the most intrusive federal law ever to knock on schoolhouse doors.

    Texas seeking waivers? Isn't this "the soft bigotry of low expectations"?

    For years, anyone who suggested that hammer-wielding, corporate-style, top-down, test-heavy directives were bleeding public education of vitality were told they were "against high standards." What, then, of state policy makers who want out of NCLB's unreasonable, oppressive, unrealistic requirements? Who's rubber, and who's glue?

   Forty-one states. That's some endorsement. With support like this, who needs opposition?

   The waivers are possible because Congress, hewing to its 21st Century bylaws, has done nothing to address state concerns about NCLB such as the unreasonableness of the requirement that all students be proficient in core subjects by 2014. President Obama made the waivers possible through executive order.

    What's amazing is that anyone would continue to talk about reauthorizing NCLB, rather than scrapping it.

    It's amazing that the Republicans, supposedly opposed to overreaching government, just can't loosen this grip. It's amazing that Democrats, supposedly most attentive to the concerns of teachers and the people who most depend on public schools, don't see or hear what NCLB has done to hurt those schools.

    Most significantly, the law has caused schools to focus so intently on testing and test objectives that they toss the rest of education out the door. Particularly in low-performing (read low-income) schools, the result has been the well-chronicled syndrome of narrowing the curriculum. That means rubbing one sore subject — say math — until it bleeds, at the expense of all else Americans consider to be education.

    What's so sad is that regardless of whatever rise in test scores might be used to justify all of this, said increase — barely statistically significant in most cases — hardly merits the immense expense, the stress, the loss of great teachers who say "ya basta" to systems that impose scripts and one-size-fits-all methods.

    Lies, damned lies and statistics. Arizona State University professor David Berliner points out that, "Any time you invest a lot of value in an outcome measure you get a corruption of the measure."  That means that higher test scores don't necessarily mean more learning, just better programming of those being tested, like Pavlov's dogs.

    Abolish NCLB. Then states, at least some of them, will shake out of their Pavlovian trance.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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