Monday, May 22, 2006

Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB

Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states' rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on the nation's diverse states and schools. In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives states wide discretion to define what students must learn, how that knowledge should be tested, and what test scores constitute "proficiency"-the key elements of any educational accountability system. States also set standards for high school graduation rates, teacher qualifications, school safety and many other aspects of school performance. As a result, states are largely free to define the terms of their own educational success.

Unfortunately, many states have taken advantage of this autonomy to make their educational performance look much better than it really is. In March 2006, they submitted the latest in a series of annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education detailing their progress under NCLB. The reports covered topics ranging from student proficiency and school violence to school district performance and teacher credentials. For every measure, the pattern was the same: a significant number of states used their standard-setting flexibility to inflate the progress that their schools are making and thus minimize the number of schools facing scrutiny under the law.

Some states claimed that 80 percent to 90 percent of their students were proficient in reading and math, even though external measures such as the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put the number at 30 percent or below. One state alleged that over 95 percent of their students graduated from high school even as independent studies put the figure closer to 65 percent. Another state determined that 99 percent of its school districts were making adequate progress, while others found that 99 percent of their teachers were highly qualified. Forty-four states reported that zero percent of their schools were persistently dangerous.

With the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, many states are reporting educational results under NCLB that defy reality and common sense. In so doing, they are undermining the effectiveness of the law.

Not all states have set lax standards. Some, like Maryland and Massachusetts, have worked hard to set a high bar for achievement and report honest information to the public. But the large variance in data reported by states that have set high standards compared to states with low standards further undermines the credibility of NCLB by creating significant and seemingly arbitrary differences in how the law impacts students and educators from state to state.

Principals and teachers in states that establish high standards under NCLB are under intense pressure to improve, while similar educators in states with low standards are told that everything is fine and they're doing a great job. Students in states that set the bar high for school performance have access to free tutoring and public school choice when their schools fall short; students in identical circumstances in other states must do without.

The result is a system of perverse incentives that rewards state education officials who misrepresent reality. Their performance looks better in the eyes of the public and they're able to avoid conflict with organized political interests. By contrast, officials who keep expectations high and report honest data have more hard choices to make and are penalized because their states look worse than others by comparison.

It is understandable, even predictable, that some state education officials would make these choices. But their actions threaten NCLB. While the most high-profile opposition to the law has come in the form of lawsuits filed and public relations campaigns waged by national teachers unions, lax state standard-setting may actually be far more harmful to the law in the long run-not by attacking it directly, but by falsely asserting that most of its goals have already been met.

Policymakers and the public won't stand behind an education system that isn't truthful. Thus, federal lawmakers have no choice but to confront the historically contentious issue of how to balance federal and state responsibility for setting education standards. Unless steps are taken to bring state standards in line with reality, NCLB's credibility-and viability-are at serious risk.

Much more here

Tennessee: Home-schooler's seat on board thrills, rankles

Having a home-schooling parent on the Metro School Board thrills some taxpayers who've long felt disenfranchised from the system, but it worries traditional education advocates who say Kay Brooks doesn't have the experience or background to do a good job. "I am concerned with someone's experience not being in public schools and what she brings to the table," school board member Marsha Warden said. "She doesn't have the experience, she doesn't have the knowledge base."

But Bonnie Hoskins, an Old Hickory mother teaching two sons at home, said Brooks, a well-known and vocal home-schooler, will bring a lot of passion and knowledge to the table. "Maybe Kay can act as a bridge to see it from both sides. It's clear that the public schools need people in there that have a passion for education," Hoskins said. "Kay can be a great source of ideas, and hopefully they'll listen to her."

The Metro Council elected Brooks, 49, by an 18-17 vote Tuesday over Gracie Porter, a retired Metro principal. Brooks will fill the school board's District 5 seat, which the Rev. Lisa Hunt left to take a job in Texas, until August. She'll have to win election by the east Nashville district's voters to serve beyond then. Porter, 60, and former Councilman Lawrence Hart plan to run for the remainder of Hunt's unexpired term, which ends in 2008.

Brooks, who lives in Inglewood, said she wants to see all children learn, will learn quickly herself and will bring new ideas to a 72,000-student school district with plenty of room for improvement. Metro has 614 home-school students registered, but Brooks said she would not push a home-school agenda. "I care about my friends' children," Brooks said. "I don't want them to get a bad education, and I don't want to pay (as a taxpayer) for a bad education."

Brooks and her husband, Jon, have four children 9 through 18. She told a council committee Tuesday that they decided to home-school their oldest child 13 years ago because their public school was "not doing well." She said she came to love the "lifestyle" and decided to stick with it.

Michelle Fraley, an active home-school parent in Clarksville whose husband is president of the Middle Tennessee Home Education Association, applauded Brooks' appointment. Fraley said she hoped Brooks' role on the school board would improve the image of home-school families. "There are home-schoolers that are very anti-public schools, but that's a minority. Most home-schoolers care that all students are provided a good education."

But David Kern, former chairman of the Metro Parents' Advisory Council, said Brooks' lack of experience with the schools would put her at a disadvantage. "She is someone who is out of touch with the school system," Kern said. Several council members who voted against Brooks said they also were troubled by how she was elected. Councilman Mike Jameson of Lockeland Springs in east Nashville, who nominated Porter, said Brooks' chief supporter, Councilman Michael Craddock of Madison, rounded up votes in private, possibly in violation of the state's open meetings law. The law says anytime two or more members of a public governing body deliberate policy or administration, the public must be notified.

Jameson said he began hearing that Craddock had 15 to 18 votes lined up May 10, a day before Craddock formally nominated Brooks. "We've been striving to get past these proverbial backroom deals, and here we go again," Jameson said Wednesday. "If someone asks you for your vote, you don't vote until you know the entire range of candidates or options."

Kathy Nevill, vice chairwoman of the school board, said council members cast their votes without deliberating publicly. Nevill said she felt Porter, who worked in Metro schools for 34 years, had better credentials. "It just makes me really worry for the city if this is how we're going to do business for the long term," Nevill said.

Craddock said he talked to fellow council members in a place and way he considered open: in the council chamber during previous meetings. He said he even introduced Brooks to some of them at the May 4 meeting. "Sure, I lined up votes, but I didn't violate the law doing it," Craddock said, adding that he had not traded votes with anyone.

The council members who supported Brooks tended to be white men from suburban areas. But Ludye Wallace and Edward Whitmore, African-Americans from downtown and north Nashville, respectively, also voted for her. All others on the Black Caucus voted for Porter, who is black.....

Craddock, who lives near Brooks and has known her for 10 years, said he had as much of a right to look out for east Nashville's interests as anyone. A graduate of East High School, he said he felt Brooks would be "aggressive" about making Metro schools better and that "the fact she home-schools her children is an aside."

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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