Wednesday, July 05, 2006


State tests of student achievement are so prone to change, and seemingly so inconsistent with federal tests and with each other, that it's tough for the public to tell whether the controversial No Child Left Behind Act has made good on its promises. Such is the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of California and Stanford University. The study, "Is the No Child Left Behind Act Working?" doesn't purport to answer the question in its title. But it does suggest that states and the federal government apparently obtain radically different results with different tests, leaving the public without a clear way to judge the effect of the 5-year-old federal law.

"We're left with this murky reality of not knowing whether No Child Left Behind is adding anything," said said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at UC Berkeley and co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, the consortium that issued the study. "The architects of NCLB promised more transparency … but this is a pretty bewildering rendition of transparency."

The law, which requires every state to test students annually in math and reading and make them all proficient by 2014, is up for reauthorization next year in Congress. Some researchers say the study highlights how hard it will be for the public to sift through the law's pros and cons. "You definitely have multiple accountability systems going, and I think it is confusing to people," said Ron Dietel, a spokesman for the National Center for Research, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA.

The yearlong study examined several years of test scores in 12 states, including California, and compared them to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the "Nation's Report Card" -- during the same years. The study turned up three major barriers to understanding the law's effects. For one, every state defines "proficiency" differently. For instance, Illinois reported in 2005 that nearly 80 percent of its fourth-graders were proficient in math, while California, with more rigorous standards, reported only about 50 percent.

Meanwhile, about the same proportion of fourth-graders in both states -- roughly 30 percent -- were proficient on the national assessment, which was the same in each state. Worse, in some states, there seemed to be virtually no link between reading performance on state tests and on federal tests. Ten of the 12 states reported annual increases in the percent of fourth-graders scoring proficient in reading between 2002 and 2005, while national results actually dropped in four of those states. In two more that reported improvement -- California and Nebraska -- the national results were flat.

The researchers also found that states rejigger their testing systems so frequently that there's no way to judge how students have improved over time. California saw two major shifts in recent years: one in 1999, when it started matching its tests to educational standards, and another in 2001, when it employed a new company to write test questions. "If parents were to only look at the state story about achievement trends, they would be bewildered as to how their kids were learning over the past 10 years," Fuller said.

Officials at the state Department of Education took issue with some of the study's findings, saying it examined an inadequate portion of the student population and underestimates recent progress. If the entire student population had been considered, rather than just those deemed proficient, the researchers would have found a tight relationship in California between state and national tests, officials said.

Fuller, however, said he focused on the top range of students because that's the range for which states are accountable under federal law. Rick Miller, an education department spokesman, said the state tests, aligned to local standards, offer a more sensitive measure of whether kids are learning than the national test does. However, Miller said he was glad the study pointed out that some states, wary of federal sanctions for inadequate progress toward their goals, have set far less ambitious targets than California has. "That's the perverse nature of NCLB -- it actually incentivizes states to lower their standards," he said.

There's little consensus among researchers about how the law has affected education, and some observers say it'll take longer than five years to create strong tests in each state that will yield consistent results. "It's a little premature to judge the global impact on our standards system," said Jim Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence and a longtime supporter of the law.

The study recommends several ways to make testing results more uniform. First, all states should be required to define proficiency the same way and perhaps align their targets with those of the national test. Policy-makers should consider designing more rigorous state tests, so teachers will focus more on the critical thinking skills required to do well on the national test. And finally, the federal government should consider helping states find ways to track achievement even when they switch or alter their tests



Parental choice in schooling for their children ‘will encourage racial segregation’, says the Commission for Racial Equality. The CRE points out that in some areas of Yorkshire 99 per cent of pupils are white, while in other areas 95 per cent of pupils are non-white. These revelations from the CRE follow its chairman Trevor Phillips’ comments in September 2005, when he argued that Britain’s cities were ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. Certainly, as Kenan Malik’s Channel 4 documentary Disunited Kingdom graphically illustrated in 2003, there are many racially segregated secondary schools in places such as Bradford and Oldham. But is it fair of the CRE to pin the blame on parental choice in schools? And is the solution to this problem yet more lectures on the importance of recognising ‘diversity’?

In the 1980s, the ruling Conservative Party made parental choice a key plank of its educational policies. This meant, in theory at least, that parents were given options to send their children to the school of their choice, rather than being restricted to local boundaries. It’s always been the case that middle-class parents have been able to bend the education system to their benefit, whether it’s through private tuition or having the right social networks to find the ‘right’ type of school. With the creation of Grant Maintained and Specialist Schools, the Conservatives simply made it easier for some middle-class parents to opt out of ‘bog-standard comprehensives’. And according to the CRE, it is this process that has steadily led to schools becoming racially segregated.

In actual fact, Britain’s inner cities and outer suburbs have long been divided between ethnic minorities and the white-middle classes. During the 1950s and 60s, immigrants were brought into London to fill the vacuum left by whites who had already moved to the suburbs. This was compounded in the 1980s by local councils that allocated social housing along racial lines.

It’s no surprise, then, that the pupil composition of secondary schools mirrored those divisions. Today, what has entrenched this divide even further is the elite’s emphasis on multiculturalism for society and, in particular, for education. At a time when our private beliefs and customs are considered to be the basis of our public lives, is it any wonder that parents are opting out of universal state schools and going for particularistic ones instead? Above all, it is the elevation of fixed identities that influences parental decisions about education. Indeed, parents are often told that the best route to educational success for their children is to have teaching methods that are ‘relevant’ to their kids’ ethnic background. Wasn’t it Phillips himself who argued, not so long ago, that black boys would do better at school if they were taught by black teachers only?

It is little wonder, then, that parents from different ethnic backgrounds may seek out schools where their child is with others from the same ‘ethnic background’. As explored in Malik’s Disunited Kingdom, some parents didn’t want their children learning ‘someone else’s’ culture. Also, at a time when we are bombarded with scare stories about the rise of bullying in schools, it is not so surprising that anxious parents would not want their child to be the only ‘minority’ in class, lest they become a target for real or imagined bullies.

All of this has coincided with a greater emphasis than ever before on how important children’s education is to their future success. When politicians and commentators constantly raise questions about the standards of education in schools, as well as over-emphasising the importance of exam success, some parents can be left in a panic about which is the right school for their child. This is one reason why faith schools are increasingly seen by some parents as the best option, with many ‘converting’ to a religion in order for their child to be eligible for a place. For all their faults, at least comprehensive schools allowed kids to get on with others from all sorts of backgrounds. It is the divisiveness of today’s multicultural thinking, not parental choice, that implicitly suggests that the old mixed comprehensive arrangement is either impossible or undesirable.

At first glance, it seems the CRE wants to combat the excesses of multiculturalism. In fact, it doesn’t so much want greater integration as it does more diversity within schools themselves. For multiculturalists, it is hard to promote ideas of difference if children are boxed off into particular faith schools. This is why local education authorities in Yorkshire have been ‘bussing in’ teenagers from racially segregated schools – not so much to demonstrate commonality and common interests, but so that the children can learn about each other’s ‘cultural identities’. Ideally, the CRE would like a mixed bag of ethnic identities in all schools precisely to demonstrate how ‘different’ we all are rather than as a means of recognising that children share common experiences and have common aspirations.

In nursery schools, for example, even toddlers are made to be ‘aware’ of how different they are from other children; they are encouraged to bring in examples of their family’s ‘ethnic cuisine’, for example, to show the rest of the class how exotic and distinct such food is. At a time in their lives when children just see other children, rather than black, white or brown children, multiculturalists are rushing in to underline the apparent divisions between them. The CRE wants the education system to institutionalise ethnic and cultural divisions within schools rather between segregated schools. That hardly represents a victory for re-establishing universal values in society at large.

Indeed, it is precisely the lack of universal thinking today which means that school students are seen in a tick-box, statistical way. The CRE may pay lip service to common national values, but its attempts to ‘overcome segregation’ are based on percentages of different ethnic groups rather than on establishing real common beliefs about the kind of society we all want to live in. If we could establish that, and in the process create a proper colour-blind society, it wouldn’t matter who went to what schools where.

It is outrageous for the CRE to question the validity of personal choice in education. What it really means is that people can’t be trusted to make ‘the right decision’ – and not just in education but in other areas too. According to one report: ‘The CRE’s view is that choice in other public services risks greater racial segregation. [The CRE has] evidence that choice in council housing may be further ghettoising communities and that even in health services, patient choice may result in ethnic segregation.’ For the CRE, ‘The language of choice is about individual needs, about self-interest. The language of integration is about society’s needs, about the collective interest.’ This is less about promoting racial integration or dubious notions of collective interest, than it is an attack on individual autonomy so that diversity and difference can be enforced from above.

There is no doubt that multicultural thinking has helped to entrench already existing ethnic divisions within society. At a time when educational learning is centred on the tyranny of relevance, the logical conclusion is for parents to send their children to schools with similar ‘like-minded’ kids and teachers. Yet far from overcoming such artificial divisions, and establishing a truly universal form of education, the CRE wants the UK’s schools to be laboratories of micro-diversity. Once again, by appearing to criticise the excesses of multiculturalism, and in the process blaming parental choice for segregated schools, the CRE has strengthened the dogma of diversity.



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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