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No Child Left Behind: Creating Failure

September 07, 2007 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

No Child Left Behind is a conservative plan to undermine confidence in public education, with an ultimate goal of destabilizing and defunding public schools. It is not a conservative plan to improve education.

It's important to understand that NCLB's "Adequate Yearly Progress" reports and attendant measurement methodology support the conservative policy goal. Citing NCLB AYP results, even for debate purposes, legitimizes the false measurement construct.

A quick gut-check is in order: are Minnesota's schools failing as NCLB evaluation suggests?

Of course not. Minnesotans know that 729 of the state's schools are not deficient.

NCLB is a conservative political goal masquerading as educational policy. Any educational policy purposefully creating failure has no place in Minnesota.

NCLB is rooted in the myth of "persistently underperforming schools." Like any myth, this one is grounded in some truth. That truth, however, is complex, inconvenient and stubborn, elements completely ignored by conservative NCLB policy creators.

The goal, let us not forget, is to destroy public education. It's not to create stronger public schools.

Do underperforming schools exist? Yes. Consequently, smart, responsible educational policy should be focused on creating accountability standards that result in real improvement, not labeling and stigmatizing schools.

We certainly need information about minority performance at the school level. For years, statistics have shown that black students perform at a lower rate than white or Asian or Hispanic students. There are many theories why this discrepancy exists, but having school-by-school data, updated yearly, with a standardized test that compares minorities against all students is a valuable tool. NCLB doesn't and won't close the achievement gap.

Meanwhile, let's get rid of the idea that Title I money should be used to send students to different schools or pay for private tutoring firms. Title I money should be used to teach poor kids reading and math. Period.  Privatizing public education is a bad idea.

Two subsets of students that shouldn't be considered when judging a school's performance are English language learners and special education students. Even with tests designed to take their unique abilities into account, the differences between high functioning special ed students and low functioning students is too vast to get an accurate read on their abilities. The same holds true for ELL students. Their abilities vary greatly and are compounded by their mobility within the state and from outside the state. Testing special ed and ELL students is a good idea and parents should receive the results of these tests, but these results shouldn't be included in the comprehensive test results.

The participation portion of the test is a simple idea that has grown draconian. The idea is to get a statistically valid number of students to take the test. If a school has more than 20 students in a minority group, then their scores count as a minority. If the school has fewer, then the students are not counted as a minority and only in the overall school scores.

Forced participation has turned administrators into bounty hunters. Say there are 21 students in a minority group. If two miss the test under NCLB, the school doesn't make its participation grade and the entire school is rated as "Needs Improvement." Therefore, administrators go to sick students' houses to drag them to school or beg parents not to take vacation just so students will be in school on test day. 

Minnesota schools are not uniformly failing as NCLB guidelines would have us believe. Minnesotans have, for generations, created strong schools. Just as our values are clear, so are our educational challenges. We shall not be slaves to a policy that purposefully finds failure in all things. We will not sacrifice strong public schools to an ideological conservative agenda.

Public education built Minnesota's past and present. It will build our future.

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