The future of NCLB
Original post made on Nov 29, 2008
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 26, 2008, 1:29 PM
on Nov 29, 2008 at 8:24 pm
The continuing focus on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ignores the proverbial elephant in the room: the model of secondary school education that continues to persist in this country (and which increasingly is permeating down to the elementary level) is, as Bill Gates has correctly stated, "obsolete." NCLB, in whatever form it takes, at best represents incremental or systemic change that will continue to prop up an outdated (early) 20th century education model that is fatally flawed in both its ends and means.
Before the change we really need in education can emerge, we must acknowledge the huge, increasing disconnect that exists between this outdated secondary school model, to which even the best public and private schools cling, and the realities of today's world. In short, the future of our children and our nation depends on the introduction of a genuinely new model of secondary education, designed in and fit for the 21st century.
By many measures much of the rest of the industrialized world has caught or passed by us in secondary education. The good news, however, is that those who are beating us in the education race are doing so with the same old model we use; that is, they're doing old style better than us. They too haven't moved into the 21st century. So, if we move now to take the initiative to create a new, 21st century secondary school model, then our high school graduates can once again become the best educated in the world. We simply cannot afford to continue our myopic focus on attempts (noble and otherwise) to fix that which clearly needs replacing.
Alan Shusterman, Founder
School for Tomorrow
Chevy Chase, Maryland
on Jan 1, 2009 at 5:51 pm
As a school administrator in Southern California, I can speak from first-hand experience how NCLB has become nothing more than a numbers game. Every year thousands of district office staff, principals and teachers check the students previous year's test scores and calculate out which kids they need to "maintain" and which ones they need to "push over the line" from basic to proficient. This sounds a like well-reasoned practice, but the costs are many and mounting.
The "bubble" students as this group is often called, is most often the first to receive consideration when interventions are designed and applied. Children who are Far Below Basic (the FBBs), are more apt to be sporadically included or not at all as they are seldom expected to make the leap from the bottom rung of the testing ladder to even the middle rung at "basic." This is not to mention the fact that children who are basic or below are often denied electives such as chorus and music and instead are fed an ever increasing diet of interventions classes until such a time that they reach proficiency, if ever. This use to be common only in departmentalized curricula (ie middle and high-schools), but I have witnessed first-hand its migration into elementary schools. Is this perpetuated by uncaring teachers and administrators who are simply trying to hold on to their jobs? Of course not; that would be an overly simplistic and cyncial conclusion. As my 17 year-old would say, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."
It does, however, speak to the overly simplistic manner in which NCLB measures student, and to a greater extent, school achievement. If the proper percentage of children score advanced or proficient the day of the test, your school is successful. If it doesn't, well then, you are up to your own devices to lift yourself by your bootstraps. The legislation says absolutely nothing how school improvement is to be implemented, save the cursory references to "scientific-based" curricula, choice programs and "supplemental educational services" (read: 3rd party tutors, most for profit).
I have personally seen the dedication of a number of teachers who work well past their required work-day to analyze student test performance, plan lessons, grade papers, update bulletin boards, conference with parents and above all, tutor. On any given day, more than half of my staff of 30 teachers remain for upwards of an hour and a half working with students at all levels of academic need. They plan and implement lessons and create classroom environments many of which I would happily immerse my own children.
This is not to say that we are not without our challenges. My school is located in an impoverished urban area and a large proportion of our students are English learners. Through hard and dedicated work we recently exited State-monitoring and have put our Program Improvement (PI) status on hold. However, this success offers little comfort as the NCLB bar goes up 10% this year every year thereafter until 2014. It's akin to asking a spinal-injury patient whose just regained his legs to not only run a marathon, but to better his times by 10% every month until he is able to clock olympic times.
The lame allegory may seem like hyperbole, but I think it necessary to illustrate the inherent inequities of NCLB. I have often stated to my teachers that, despite our imperfections, were we to be teching students from Laguna Beach or Marin County, our test scores would be through the roof. I base this statement on two observations: first, after nearly 20 years as an educational professional, I know what good teaching looks like. In my school, I see it everyday. Second, I recently had a teacher move from my district to one that is extremely affluent where the students scores are well above 900 on the State's API scale and whose only trouble reaching NCLB benchmarks are 50 or so English learner students (most of whom are the sons and daughters of maids and grounds-keepers at the homes in the school's attendance area). My question to her was what are the teachers there doing that we are not. Her reply? Not a thing, in fact, my teachers were better at instructing English learner students and worked much harder when it came to offering after-school tutoring.
So now that I've decried the problems of NCLB, it is natural to wonder whether I have any suggestions. Well, I do, but I don't pretend by any means to have all of the answers. Our situation is far too complex for there to be one solution and for that solution to only be contained within our school system. As a school official, I have two, but it will take far more than what I suggest here.
First, switch from a simple pass/fail system of testing accountability to a value-added growth model. It's unrealistic to expect a student who is two or three years below grade level to make up that much academic ground in one year. Indeed, under the current system, when these children make significant growth, it often does not count because he or she does not reach the benchmark cut-off. (And yes, every year I see test scores where more than one child goes from Far Below Basic to Basic.)
Second, elminate the test scores of Special Education and English learner students from the formulas used to calculate school success. This should be a no-brainer for several reasons. First, if Special Ed. students could score "proficient" on yearly tests, they wouldn't need Special Education services. As for English learner students, there is no standardized test out there which is appropriate for yearly assessment that has been norm-referenced using English learner populations. Simply put, it is unfair to expect children who are not proficient in English to not only take a test in what is the equivalent of a foreign language, but to then make educational decisions for these children based upon this information. I believe it is the prime example of institutional racism in our time.
Some of my points may be controversial. Maybe they are, maybe not, but they are reality. The one thing I won't accept though is the idea that teachers are lazy and uncommitted. Like any other profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers. It's the same with principals, doctors, lawyers and presidents.