Monday, January 09, 2012

Bush/Kennedy education law's promise falls short after 10 years

The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering the promise of improved schools for the nation's poor and minority children and better prepared students in a competitive world.

Yet after a decade on the books, President George W. Bush's most hyped domestic accomplishment has become a symbol to many of federal overreach and Congress' inability to fix something that's clearly flawed.

The law forced schools to confront the uncomfortable reality that many kids simply weren't learning, but it's primarily known for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as "failures."

Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of the day Bush signed it into law in Hamilton, Ohio. By his side were the leaders of the education committees in Congress, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. The bipartisanship that made the achievement possible in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks is long gone.

The same Senate committee approved a revamped education bill last year, but deep-rooted partisanship stalled the measure in the full Congress. In this election year, there appears little political will for compromise despite widespread agreement that changes are needed.

Critics say the law carries rigid and unrealistic expectations that put too much of an emphasis on tests for reading and math at the expense of a more well-rounded education.

Frustrated by the congressional inaction, President Barack Obama told states last fall they could seek a waiver around unpopular proficiency requirements in exchange for actions his administration favors. A vast majority of states have said they will go that route, seen as a temporary fix until lawmakers do act.

Like Obama, Republican presidential candidates have criticized the law. One, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, even saying he regrets voting for it.

"If you called a rally to keep No Child Left Behind as it is, not a single person would show up," said Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Denver's former school superintendent.

The view was drastically different 10 years ago, when Bush took what was an uncommon stance for a conservative in seeking an aggressive federal role in forcing states and districts to tackle abysmal achievement gaps in schools.

He was able to get fellow Republicans such as Boehner, the current House speaker, and Democratic leaders on education such as Kennedy, who died in 2009, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to join him. The mandate was that all students read and perform math on grade level by 2014.

"No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance. No longer is it acceptable to keep results from parents," Bush said when he signed the legislation. "We're never going to give up on a school that's performing poorly; that when we find poor performance, a school will be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems."

The law requires annual testing. Districts must keep and publish data showing how subgroups of students perform. Schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, from busing children to higher performing schools to offering tutoring and replacing staff.

The test results were eye-opening, recalled Miller, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

"People were stunned because they were always led to believe that things were going fine in this particular school. And the fact of the matter was, for huge numbers of students that was not the case," Miller said. "That led to a lot of anger, disappointment. That led to embarrassment. In many instances, the schools were being held out as exceeding in their mission, when it fact they were failing many, many of the children in those schools."

Under the law, watching movies and assigning irrelevant or no homework was no longer acceptable because suddenly someone was paying attention, said Charles Barone, a former aide to Miller who is director of federal policy with Democrats for Education Reform.

In low-performing urban schools, where teachers and principals once might have thrown up their hands and not known what to do, there was a new attitude along the lines of "we might not know what to do, but we've got to do something," said Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Both spoke at a recent forum on the law at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

But many teachers and principals started to believe they were being judged on factors out of their control and in ways that were unfair.

Jennifer Ochoa, an eighth-grade literacy teacher in New York who works with low-performing students, said the law has hurt morale among educators as well as students, who feel they have to do well on a standardized test or are failures, no matter how much progress they make.


Do as I say, not as I do

The British Labour party opposes private education but a prominent Labour politician sent her son to a private school. It reminds me of Barbara Castle in the Wilson Labour government. She said it was obscene to carve your way to a hospital bed with a chequebook but when her son got sick she sent him to a private hospital -- under an assumed name

The black Labour MP accused of racism after claiming that white people ‘love to divide and rule’ sent her son to be privately educated – in a former British colony.

Diane Abbott caused outrage last week after she used Twitter to comment on the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, saying: ‘White people love playing divide and rule. We should not play their game,’ and referring to ‘tactics as old as colonialism’.

Now it has been revealed that when Left-winger Ms Abbott’s son was 16, she shunned the British education system in favour of sending him to a fee-paying school in Ghana, a country run by the British as the Gold Coast Colony between 1874 and 1957.

James Abbott, now 20, was sent to study in the sixth form of the £6,000-a-year SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema, Ghana, which boasts facilities such as a ‘near-Olympic-sized pool’ and declares that its students ‘graduate with an internationally recognised baccalaureate and are then able to study at almost any university in the world’. It worked for Mr Abbott – he is now a student at Cambridge University.

The college, established in 1990, also says in its promotional literature that it ‘seeks to focus pupils’ attention on the development of Africa in order to instil a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the continent’.

Ms Abbott was humiliated last week when her party leader, Ed Miliband, rang her while she was being interviewed on television and ordered her to retract her comments.

‘Divide and rule’ was a central strategy of British imperial policy, under which different ethnic groups – including those in Ghana – were encouraged to use up their energies fighting among themselves, rather than plotting to overthrow their colonial masters.

It is not the first time Ms Abbott’s decisions over her son’s schooling have raised eyebrows.

When she was running for the Labour leadership in 2010 she was attacked for sending James to the £13,000-a-year City of London School, despite her party’s opposition to private education.

She explained: ‘I knew what could happen if my son went to the wrong school and got in with the wrong crowd. ‘They are subjected to peer pressure and when that happens it’s very hard for a mother to save her son. Once a black boy is lost to the world of gangs it’s very hard to get them back.’ She added, in an interview with BBC pundit Andrew Neil: ‘West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children.’

Mr Neil hit back by demanding: ‘So black mums love their kids more than white mums, do they?’ Ms Abbott responded: ‘I have said everything I am going to say about where I send my son to school.’

James Abbott himself once defended the decision, insisting that his mother was only following his own wishes.

‘She’s not a hypocrite, she just put what I wanted first instead of what people thought,’ he said, adding that he had wanted to go private rather than attend one of the comprehensives in Ms Abbott’s Hackney constituency. ‘It’s a good school. The facilities, the resources and the teachers seem better than the state school,’ he said.

Community leaders complain that black pupils are frequently failed by the state system. Nearly three-quarters of black boys in London leave school without managing to achieve five GCSE passes at grade C.

When James took his GCSEs at the City of London School four years ago, he earned 11 A* grades.

Ms Abbott married James’s father, architect Richard Thompson, in 1991, but they divorced two years later.


Australia: Bad grades prompt surge in university death threats

Australia gets a lot of its overseas students from Malaysia, some of whom are Muslim. Note that ethnicity is carefully not mentioned below

UNIVERSITY lecturers are getting death threats from international students who have received bad grades. Victoria Police are investigating one case at a state campus after an email was sent to a lecturer stating: "I will kill u and your family."

It is understood the email was sent from a student who was given a low mark at the end of last semester and warned the lecturer to expect an attack on university grounds.

Four staff members from three Victorian universities told the Sunday Herald Sun threats against tertiary staff by international students were becoming more common. Cars had been defaced with graffiti, teachers' houses vandalised and staff physically intimidated and stalked by students.

One source said universities were reluctant to act on threats because international students were full fee-paying "cash cows". They are required to pay fees in advance and usually spend between $14,000 and $35,000 a year for a bachelor of arts and more for other degrees such as medicine, according to Australian Government estimates.

More than 151,000 international students were enrolled in different degrees at universities in Victoria last year.

Clinical psychologist Lisa Warren said she dealt with up to 15 cases involving university staff last year. Dr Warren said the majority of the threats were made by email or on social networking sites by international and local students.

In the incident being probed by police, the emailer wrote: "Why did u give the f---ing low marks? I will kill u and your family next year 2012. "I promise i will kill u excluding any cost, believe me."

The victim, who did not want to be named, told the Sunday Herald Sun he was shocked and afraid the threat would be carried out. "I have colleagues in the rooms next to me and if someone was to come in waving a gun it is a threat against all of us," he said.

Police have contacted the Immigration Department about the threat, the victim said.

Dr Warren said in severe cases victims of threats could be traumatised for life. "Most of the time it is just a blunt and ineffective way of communication, but anything that suggests the student has personal information, such as where the victim's house is or where their child goes to school, is worrying," Dr Warren said.


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