Monday, December 26, 2011

Yes, NCLB Was a Failure

The following article from a Leftist source is probably right to claim that NCLB has achieved little but it is notable that he offers no alternative. Is he happy with the abysmal status quo? Not very "progressive"!

First, not everyone agrees that NCLB was a failure. Just last week, as reported in the education trade newspaper Education Week, the conservative Fordham Institute issued a study claiming that NCLB should be credited for having boosted math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress -- especially in the state of Texas, an early adopter of "accountability". The study concludes that the problem with America's public schools is not that NCLB has been a failure, but that it was only good enough to provide a temporary "shock" to our educational system, and another one is sorely needed.

The study's author, Mark Schneider, likens NCLB to the meteor strike that may have wiped out the dinosaurs and cleared the ecosystem for the rise of mammals -- no, I am not making this up -- and contends that the doctrine created a positive new "equilibrium." What's necessary now, he contends, is for "another meteor" to "come crashing into the school ecosystem."

The expected results for this apocalyptic wish? Another "uptick in math scores" -- if we're "lucky." And what if we're not . . . ?
Hyperbole aside (please), this effort to cherry pick data in order to draw a grand conclusion about the state of America's public schools wouldn't be so bad if it didn't overlook an overwhelming context of other information.

NCLB In Context

The "overwhelming context" is that although NCLB may -- or may not have (correlation is not causation) -- helped produce higher scores in math, there's very good reason to conclude that any "uptick" in math scores was likely at the expense of teaching a great many other subjects.

A recent national survey of 1,001 public school teachers found that an overwhelming majority -- two-thirds -- said that study of art, science, and social studies was "getting crowded out of the school day." From an article in Education Week about the survey:
Nearly all of the teachers who see time for English and math pushing other subjects aside say the main reason is state tests. In fact, 60 percent say their school is devoting more time in recent years to test-taking skills. And, the extra time for English and math is not simply for struggling students, but affects all students, conclude 77 percent of respondents.

Furthermore, now that nearly half of the public schools in America have been deemed "failing," according to NCLB standards, even though everyone agrees the standards for failing are "defective," most states are jumping through all kinds of hoops in order to get around what is still the law of the land. What results, of course, is time, energy, and resources going toward anything but the crucial matter at hand: real teaching and learning.

It's The Data, Stupid

The premise of NCLB was that by tracking "the data" produced by standardized tests, we could set our students free of "failed" schools. Instead, it's "the data" that appear to be failing us. In recent days, two articles from major news outlets illustrate the failure all too well.

First, Michael Winerip from The New York Times recounts the "scientific" exactitude of tracking school performance in New York over the past decade. Mocking the "finely calibrated" academic standards used by the state, Winerip traced the bizarre ups and downs of education assessments, in which student scores meander from "dismal" to "record levels," back to "ridiculously inflated," then to "statistically significant declines," without any particular rhyme or reason. And all the while edu-crats and politicians assure the public, over and over, that everything is "going in the right direction."

Then, over at Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits points us to a new study by policy analysts at Mathematica that blasts NCLB's reliance on "raw test data" as being "extremely misleading."

The analysts at Mathematica reasoned that NCLB's reliance on test data made it a flawed policy from the get-go because you can't "compare this year's fifth graders with last year's," and you can't use the results of a test "to measure short-term impacts of policies or schools," because you're measuring different groups of students. So differences in scores between two cohorts -- say, fourth graders one year and fourth graders the next year -- are more indicative of the differences in the students themselves as opposed to the quality of schooling they've experienced. And the results from these year-to-year snapshots that NCLB relied on generally led to "false impressions of growth or loss."

Nevertheless in 2012, the Obama administration's Race to the Top -- a competition that has states vie for federal funds by promising to implement reforms championed by the Education Department -- will, in fact, extend NCLB’s obsession with "year-to-year snapshots." By requiring that teacher evaluation be in part measured by the scores students get on exams, the intent of NCLB remains unwaivering.

The Coming Data-Based "Dropout Crisis"

As long as this illusion of "scientific precision" continues to guide education policy, we’ll keep chasing after these flawed "impressions of growth or loss." In fact, quite likely the first of these data-based chimeras to pop-up on the radar in 2012 will be a new "crisis" over dropout rates. Again, the crisis will be based on "the data," and again, "the data" will be completely misleading.

As US News and World Report revealed last week, "the official national graduation rates will likely dip between 5 percent and 10 percent next year." How do we know this?

Because "new federal rules that mandate states to report [high schooll graduation rates uniformly will go into effect for the class of 2012," most states will have to change the way they report graduation rates. For many of these states, it will mean lower graduation totals at the end of each year, even if the same percentage of high schoolers still earn diplomas.

The report explains: "Under current federal laws, states are allowed to lump in students who complete special education programs, night school, the GED, and virtual high school programs along with those who earn a traditional high school diploma." But after removing these students from federal allowances, graduation rates will definitely fall.

"That doesn't mean schools are doing anything differently or are graduating fewer students than in past years," the report observes. But nevertheless, whether you agree with the new federal mandates or not, "the data" will show a "dropout crisis."

Caution Signs In Order

This is not to say that data can't be an important element for guiding public policy. But there are currently too many gung-ho data devotees exhorting us onward when we desperately need some caution signs.

Few, for instance, have considered what it could mean to have these warehouses of our children's academic information potentially in the hands of profiteers. Need a mailing list of "failing students" anyone?

This week, the blog NYC Public School Parents connected the dots among reports from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times to reveal that student data from New York are being outsourced to a corporation run by Bill Gates and operated by a business owned by Rupert Murdoch.

A chilling excerpt from the documents obtained by the blogger makes it all too clear what the commercial intentions are for this project:
In addition to making instructional data more manageable and useful, this open-license technology, provisionally called the Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI), will also support a large market for vendors of learning materials and application developers.

"In other words, companies will be making more money off student's test scores," the blogger concludes.

Back To School?

Whether you agree or not that the current data obsession guiding education policy is more about making schools better or making money, the lesson from 2011 is that, either way, there are few benefits to our nation's children and youth.

What NCLB represented more than anything was a really bad way of thinking about public policy. Established on the notion that something as complex as a school system, overseeing something as ill-defined as "learning," can be evaluated and governed by specific and isolated "data outputs," NCLB was doomed to failure from the start.

But even as NCLB lays in ruins, there's every indication that lessons have not been learned and we're continuing down the same policy rat hole as before.

Every good teacher knows that one of the most valuable things you can impart to students is the ability to learn from mistakes. If they're right, we have a whole lot of policy leaders who need to go back to school.


The Affirmative-Action Myth

Jeff Jacoby

IF RACIAL PREFERENCES in higher education were good for racial minorities in higher education, we surely would have seen the definitive evidence of it by now. Instead, a widening shelf of empirical research suggests that the opposite is true -- that affirmative action in academia is not advancing minority achievement but impeding it.

More than 30 years ago, in the case of University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court gave colleges and universities a green light to admit applicants on the basis of race if their reason for doing so was to secure the blessings of a "diverse" student body. Many educators and policymakers concluded that lowering academic standards for black and Hispanic candidates – though awkward and controversial -- was a worthwhile tradeoff, since it would increase the number of minorities with advanced degrees and prestigious careers. Build racial diversity into each freshman class, it was widely believed, and more diversity among graduate students, academics, and professionals would ensue.

But it hasn't worked that way.

In a report published last year, the US Commission on Civil Rights explored why black and Hispanic students who enroll in college intending to major in science, technology, engineering, or math -- the so-called STEM fields -- are far less likely than other students to follow through on those intentions.

The problem isn't lack of interest. Incoming minority freshmen actually start out more attracted than their white counterparts to the goal of a science or engineering degree. Nor is racism to blame. The Commission found that discrimination "was not a substantial factor" in the rate at which black and Hispanic students give up on science and math majors. Yet the bottom line is disheartening: Even after decades of affirmative action, blacks (relative to their share of the overall population) are only 36 percent as likely as whites to earn a bachelor's degree in a STEM discipline -- and only 15 percent as likely to make it all the way to a science-related PhD.

And it's not only in science and math that the supposed beneficiaries of racial preferences fall behind.

According to research by UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander, more than 51 percent of black students at elite law schools finish their first year in the bottom 10 percent of their class. Black students fail or drop out of law school at more than twice the rate of white students (19.3 percent vs. 8.2 percent). And while 78 percent of white law school graduates pass the bar exam on their first attempt, only 45 percent of black graduates do.

The inability of racial preferences to vault more minority students into high scholastic achievement shouldn't come as a surprise. When an elite institution relaxes its usual standards to admit more blacks and Hispanics, it all but guarantees that those academically weaker students will have trouble keeping up with their better-prepared white and Asian classmates. Minorities who might have flourished in a science or engineering program at a middle-tier state college are apt to find themselves overwhelmed by the pace at which genetics or computer architecture is taught in the Ivy League. Many decide to switch to an easier major. Others drop out altogether.

This is the cruelty of affirmative-action "mismatch" -- the dynamic by which racial preferences steer minorities to schools where they are underqualified and therefore less likely to succeed. Absent such preferences, black and Hispanic students would attend universities for which their credentials better suited them. Many would earn higher grades or degrees in more prestigious and challenging fields; more would go on to graduate school and careers in academia or the professions. If it weren't for race-based admissions policies, in other words, underrepresented minorities wouldn't be so underrepresented.

Racial preferences, says University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, have backfired. She is one of three members of the Civil Rights Commission urging the Supreme Court to recognize the damage it unleashed when it allowed racial "diversity" to trump the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Skin color was always an ill-contrived proxy for diversity of experiences and beliefs. What more than 30 years of race-based admissions have made clear, Heriot argues, is that "even with the best motives in the world, race-based admissions do far more harm than good." Especially to the students they are intended to help.


British teachers who branded their primary school pupils 'thick and inbred' during Facebook conversations 'quit' their jobs after parent's outrage

Maybe what the teachers said among themselves was a bit too close to the truth

Two teachers who branded their pupils 'thick and inbred' on Facebook have quit their jobs after parents expressed outrage, it was revealed today. Former head Debbie Johnson and teacher Nyanza Roberts left Westcott Primary School following an investigation, Hull City Council confirmed.

Mary Wallace, the chair of governors, said in a letter to parents, that the two had 'decided to relinquish their posts'.

Print-outs of the Facebook comments were posted on fencing near the primary School and word quickly spread among the 250 pupils. One said: 'No wonder everyone is thick... inbreeding must damage brain development.' Another referred to seeing pupils queuing in a discount store.

The online exchange, allegedly between teachers at the school, prompted anger among parents.

In a letter to parents, Ms Wallace said: 'Further to my last letter in which I promised to keep you updated with any developments at the school I write to inform you the investigation into the Facebook matter which affected a number of staff within the school has now been concluded. The details will remain confidential for legal reasons.

'However, I am able to inform you Ms Johnson and Miss Roberts have decided to relinquish their posts at Westcott Primary School from December 2011 and will pursue other opportunities.

'For the other members of staff involved in this matter, this has now been concluded under the school's disciplinary procedure. Again, no details can be given for legal reasons.

'I can assure you that the children's education and welfare continue to lie at the heart of everything we do and the school is running smoothly under the leadership of Mr Roe, the deputy headteacher who will take over as acting headteacher until a new headteacher is recruited.

'All classes are being covered by qualified teaching staff and everyone is working hard to ensure that the children's education and well-being are not affected in any way.'

The Facebook conversation is said to have taken place on a Saturday, when the school was closed, and begins with teacher Stuart Clark writing that he is ‘fed up of bumping into children in town’.

Later Nyanza Roberts makes a reference to an area of the town and adds: ‘No wonder everyone is thick… inbreeding must damage brain development.’

Head Debbie Johnson responds: ‘You’re really on one today mrs…!!Xx’

Miss Roberts replies: ‘Haha I’m actually in a good mood!! If anyone reading this is offended, then get a grip!!’

Another teacher, Jane Johnson, then interjects: ‘Massive queue of Westcott year 5/6 kids in poundland!X’

Parents were furious. Emma Bywood, 30, who has two children at the school, said: ‘My son came home on Monday and I had to explain to him what inbred meant. ‘I’m fuming. If he wasn’t in Year 6, I would be taking him out of the school. But he is starting his Sats exams after Christmas.’

Beckie White, 33, who has a nine-year-old daughter at the school, said: ‘I know it’s Facebook and it’s out of school hours, but they have a responsibility. ‘They know these things might be seen by people and, of course, parents will be hacked off. There should at least be an apology.’

Another mother commented: ‘I’m disgusted and disappointed. I feel let down by the people who are supposed to be role models for our children. ‘I have lost confidence and respect for the teachers at the school. I have doubts about keeping my child at the school.’

Miss Johnson earlier insisted the comments had been taken ‘out of context’ and implied they did not refer to the children.

A council spokeswoman said: 'We are continuing to support the school and will now focus on moving forward to ensure that children get the best possible standards of education. For legal reasons we are not able to go into any more detail.'


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