NCLB: One Parent's View

Inspired, in part, by Jay P. Greene
I'm no NCLB expert. I'm not a professor of education, an education policy wonk or a teacher. I'm just a parent with a kid in a public elementary school that is in Program Improvement status. But I've seen the harm caused by NCLB, and I disagree with Greene's dismissiveness.

In his response to the Ohio principal's letter, Greene says, basically, "What are you worried about? Your school is doing great." Well, my kid's school is not, by NCLB standards. In the 2007 AYP report, my child's school made adequate yearly progress in every category except for the percentage of African-Americans scoring proficient or above in both English and math. (Students with disabilities also scored below the cut-off in English, but not math.) That's bad enough: Let the NCLB sanctions rain down.

Don't get me wrong: I am shocked and appalled by the discrepancies in the performance on these tests between white and African-American students. How can it be that 90+% of white students at my child's school scored proficient or higher in English and 85+% of white students scored proficient or higher in math, while the percentage for African-American students in both subjects hovered around 22%? Even given all the caveats about statistics, testing and scoring, with that large a gap, there must be something going on. And the gap does seem to be at least partially a racial, rather than socio-economic, one: a significantly greater percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students than African-Americans were scored proficient or above in both tests.

I give credit to NCLB for raising awareness (at least mine) of what seems to be an extreme racial disparity in, at least, test performance. But NCLB, with its extremely and increasingly stringent requirements and its package of sanctions, is not the answer.

On his blog, Mr. Greene says that NCLB sanctions are non-existent, and there are no real consequences for "failing" schools. That's bullshit. Or if it's not, NCLB is not being implemented the way it was intended to be: sanctions and "corrective action" are an integral part of the thing.

My kid's school, and school district, have not yet had the more serious sanctions kick in . . . yet. But I see the detrimental effects of NCLB nonetheless. It's had what we in the law might call a "chilling effect."

I've seen an explicit decision to focus educational efforts on the students who have scored just below proficient in hopes of bringing these students across the line. This strategy makes some sense, if your driving goal is to avoid further condemnation under NCLB. And given the structure and demands of NCLB, I'd have to say that this would not be an irrational choice -- sacrifice those at the bottom and the top for the greater good of getting out of Program Improvement status. If you want to educate all the kids in your school and district, however -- including those way below proficient and those well above it -- it's a very cold-blooded (at best) approach that runs counter to the public-school mission of educating all children.

I've seen heavy-handed pressure from the district on the school to use certain programs and enforce teachers' use of certain programs. I've seen a sort of administrative floundering about to find the magic bullet. A waste of time, energy and money in a district and school that don't have enough to spare of any of those.

I've seen parents who might have been interested in sending their kids to public school instead choose private school because they fear "teaching to the test." This is not what goes on at my school, as far as I have seen. But the perception is there, and I believe it has had a real effect. Maybe driving people away from public schools is what the NCLB supporters really want; I don't know. But parents who care about whether teachers at a school are or are not "teaching to the test" tend to be the kind of parents who care about and get involved in their children's education, the kind of parents that public schools really need. If just the specter of NCLB is driving them away from public school, it's done plenty of harm, in my view.

If not NCLB, then what? Tft's already done this routine: fix poverty, fix parents, fix society, pay teachers a lot more money. A few tests, a new curriculum or two and an annual shaming of the "failing" schools ain't gonna cut it.

And with that, I'm on vacation, too.

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