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Read a Post for Reform, or Séance? Seeking the “Spirit” of No Child Left Behind
 
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NCLB Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Fatally Flawed

Posted By: Dick Schutz on October 4, 2005
 
As Rudalevige’s thoughtful essay exemplifies, all the debate and discussion about NCLB has concerned politics and economics—money and power. Both the Governors and the Federal Administration have a point.

Take the Govs’ position. If you tote up the costs of implementing the mandates, the law is under funded. This is nothing new; the Feds have been doing the same sort of thing for decades. But the Govs’ position misses the point that if they had all the money in the Fed budget funneled into the NCLB mandates, they would not do a bit better job teaching all kids to read than they’re now doing. (I’m going to focus here on reading, because that’s been the focus of the implementation of the legislation.

Take the Feds’ position. The states are trying to dodge "accountability." Yes, they are. But the Feds’ position misses the point that each and every state is in compliance with the mandates. The states “planned,” and their plans were “rigorously reviewed,” and then officially approved by the U. S. Department of Education. (That the whole sequence was ceremony is beside the point.) The states can’t be expected to comply harder—they’re already complying fully.

The political and economic issues will be resolved in the time-honored way, consistent with Rudalevige’s counsel: by compromise. But the resolution will do nothing to further the realization of the aspiration reflected in the legislation.

The entire debate/dialog has missed the point that the legislation is fatally flawed technically. To wit:

· It's statistically impossible for any district to bring all students above the mean. This is the Lake Wobegon fallacy, which should be obvious. Bob Linn has made the point in several scholarly articles that it's just a matter of time before all schools will fail. But the beat goes on.

· The schools quit teaching reading as such by the end of grade 3. The instruction morphs into "Literature." Yet the testing in reading begins where the instruction ends. Why? Convenience to multiple choice test constructors. Many younger kids can't handle the mechanics of filling in the bubbles.

· The law speaks repeatedly of the "new science of reading." These are five empty contrived constructs that have no operational definition. Each textbook and teacher can define the terms any way they like. That's far removed from science.

· The law stipulates that schools will use "programs based on scientifically based research. Publishers made little or no changes in their texts. The just mouthed the five empty constructs and declared them "scientifically based. Look at the "What Works Clearinghouse" http://www.whatworks.ed.gov/ that is supposed to be listing the "scientifically-based programs." They've been at it since 2002, and the cupboard is bare. And the beat goes on.

· The sanctions for "failed schools do not relate to the improvement of instruction. They relate to the politics of education--hiring and firing of personnel. This sends anxiety waves through the system, but it begs the question of instructional improvement.

These defects can be identified from the armchair and ny one of the flaws should be a showstopper. But Larson, Glass and Berliner have recently published a very carefully done study on the effects of the “high stakes testing” that is mandated by NCLB:

http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/documents/EPSL-0509-105-EPRU.pdf

Their bottom line:

“…the fact that our study finds no convincing evidence that the pressure associated with high-stakes testing leads to increased achievement, there is no reason to continue the practice of high stakes testing. Thus, given (a) the unprofessional treatment of the educators who work in high-stakes testing situations, (b) the inevitable corruption of the indicators used in accountability systems where high stakes testing is featured, (c) data from this and other studies that seriously question whether the intended effects of high-stakes testing actually occur, and (d) the acknowledged impossibility of reaching the achievement goals set by the NCLB act in a reasonable time frame, there is every reason to ask for a moratorium on testing policies that force us to rely on high-stakes testing” (p.104-105).

In an Administration pledged to “evidence-based decision making in Education,” the moratorium would seem to be a slam-dunk. If you believe that, there’s a war going in Iraq that you could also resolve.

Dick Schutz
3RsPlus@usinter.net
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 NCLB Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Fatally Flawed by Dick Schutz on October 4, 2005
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