Saturday, December 12, 2015

NCLB Revisionism

Well, that didn't take long.

Some folks are already getting misty-eyed over the halcyon days of No Child Left Behind and grumbling about what has been lost in the newly-minted Every Student Succeeds Or Else Act. The problem with getting misty-eyed is that it seriously impairs your vision.

Take Chad Aldeman (Bellwether Education Partners) in yesterday's Washington Post, who wants us to know what wonderful things we've lost now that No Child Left Behind has been left behind.

In Aldeman's story, NCLB put pressure on schools to improve, and the more pressure it created, the more people fought back.

Over time, as expectations rose, so too did the number of schools failing to meet them. At the law’s peak, more than 19,000 schools — about two-fifths of schools receiving federal funds and one-fifth of all public schools nationally — were placed on lists of schools “in need of improvement” and subject to consequences built into the law...

As the law aged and those consequences rose, it became less and less politically acceptable to tell so many schools to improve, let alone expect states or districts to have the technical capacity to help them do it. 

What Aldeman fails to mention is that the increased failure rate was directly related to NCLB's bizarrely unrealistic and innumerate goal of having 100% of American students score above average on the Big Standardized Test.

 [Update: Aldeman disagrees that "proficient" is the same as "above average," and there was some argument at the time about what "proficient" really meant and whether it was "just good enough" or "ready for college." Here's what the state of PA was saying in 2006:

Students are identified as performing in one of four levels: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. The goal is for all students to be proficient or advanced – meaning that they have mastered Pennsylvania’s assessment anchor content standards at their grade level. 

"At grade level" is a tricky construct, but "grade level" frequently means "average."]

NCLB guaranteed that as we approached 2014, we would have only two types of schools in this country-- schools that were failing and schools that were cheating. Success was literally impossible. And that guaranteed that the number of failing schools would increase and that the public, as they saw the failure label hit schools that they knew damn well were good schools-- that public was going to push back and politicians were going to join in.

Aldeman notes the history of Obama waivers. And he notes the irony of the GOP's love of federal intrusion when it came to education policy.

But Aldeman is also bleary-eyed when it comes to the history of intervention in "failing" schools.

Perhaps worst of all, a strategy focused on fixing the toughest problems hinges on the desire and ability to actually do something about poor performance. The Obama administration, to its credit, did allocate significant resources to chronically low-performing schools through its School Improvement Grants program. And in exchange, it required tough and aggressive interventions in those schools. Although the results of those efforts are still uncertain, they represent a real attempt to shake up persistently poor-performing schools.

No, the results of the SIG program are not uncertain. They're a full-on failure, and all Aldeman has to do is walk across the hall to his Bellwether colleague Andy Smarick hear about it.

Aldeman is unhappy that ESSA is not draconian enough in its approach to "failing" schools. He misses the bigger problem with his aims. Neither NCLB nor the Obama Waiver program had a clue of how to accurately locate failing schools, nor do policy-makers have a clue about how to fix a failing school once they find it. All we've gotten from the last fifteen years of reformsterism is a means of using "failed" schools as a means for creating markets for charter operators and ed-related corporate money grabs.

Like many victims of nostalgia, Aldeman is sad to lose things that we never had. I can think of plenty of reasons not to love ESSA, but a belief that we actually lost some things that NCLB got right-- that does not make the list of objections.

No comments:

Post a Comment