I’m going to start trying to post regularly on No Child Left Behind. This is the first (or second) collection of links and excerpts.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was before the House Appropriations Committee recently. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the session.
Democrats were harsh, with Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois calling the administration’s budget priorities “a bunch of garbage,” and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut saying she was glad today was the last time she had to hear Ms. Spellings defend the president’s priorities. But Republicans were barely kinder, with Rep. John E. Peterson of Pennsylvania saying the administration’s budget “puts a zero priority on technical education,” and Rep. Dennis R. Rehberg of Montana accusing Ms. Spellings of neglecting American Indians. “I don’t know what you guys are smoking over there,” Mr. Rehberg told Ms. Spellings, “but it just ain’t working.”
The United Church of Christ has some wonderful anti-NCLB resources. I think my favorite is Ten Moral Concerns in the No Child Left Behind Act.
1. While it is a civic responsibility to insist that schools do a better job of educating every child, we must also recognize that undermining support for public schooling threatens our democracy. The No Child Left Behind Act sets an impossibly high bar—that every single student will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. We fear that this law will discredit public educationwhen it becomes clear that schools cannot possibly realize this utopian ideal.
6. The No Child Left Behind Act blames schools and teachers for many challenges that are neither of their making nor within their capacity to change. The test score focus obscures the importance of the quality of the relationship between the child and teacher. Sincere, often heroic efforts of teachers are made invisible. While the goals of the law are important—to proclaim that every child can learn, to challenge every child to dream of a bright future, and to prepare all children to contribute to society—educators also need financial and community support to accomplish these goals.
7. The relentless focus on testing basic skills in the No Child Left Behind Act diminishes attention to the humanities, the social studies, the arts, and child and adolescent development. While education should cover basic skills in reading and math, the educational process should aspire to far more. We believe education should help all children develop their gifts and realize their promise—intellectually physically, socially, and ethically. The No Child Left Behind Act treats children as products to be tested, measured and made more uniform.
9. The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as “in need of improvement.” Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts.
Among the districts that reported both increasing time for ELA or math and reducing time in other subjects, 72%indicated that they reduced time by a total of at least 75 minutes per week for one or more of these other subjects. For example, more than half (53%) of these districts cut instructional time by at least 75 minutes per week in social studies, and the same percentage (53%) cut time by at least 75 minutes per week in science.
Some news on the “opt out” front (states, districts, schools and students considering refusing to comply with the law). Virginia is on the edge of leaving NCLB behind (hat tip to Jim Horn at Schools Matter). The Carol Stream (IL) Elementary District 93 has decided not to force children who don’t speak and read English to take tests writen for English speakers (this is a violation of the law…another tip of the hat to Jim Horn is in order).
District 93 officials say they’re willing to break the law this spring to shield students from the frustration and humiliation of taking an exam not designed for them.
“The board believes it’s appropriate to do that,” District 93 Superintendent Henry Gmitro said. “While there may be consequences for the adults in the organization, we shouldn’t ask kids to be tested on things they haven’t been taught.”
Illinois dropped the test that was designed for English learners this fall, after the U.S. Department of Education made a final ruling that the test wasn’t an adequate measure of state learning standards. The old test was written in simpler English.
As a stopgap measure, English learners will take standard assessments with some special accommodations, such as extended time and audio recordings, while Illinois develops a test that will meet federal guidelines.
Locally, the Wisconsin Peace & Justice Network is asking people to identify alternate uses for the money that is being spent on the Iraq war. According to their figures, Madison taxpayers have contributed about $300 million. After fully funding free quality early child education and restoring MMSD’s cost to continue cuts of the last few years, I would suggest Madison opt out of NCLB at a cost of about $5 million per year. We can dream.
Thomas J. Mertz