Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Failure of NCLB

This is time for a change for our society and in our schools. We face a marked crises in the economy, the banking system, government, politics, families, communities and in the schools.
All children deserve a good education to participate in our democracy. Lack of education is a ticket to economic hardship. The more years of school that a student completes, the more money they are likely to earn as adults and the better their chance to get and keep a good job. Unemployment is highest among school dropouts as is incarceration for crimes.
We need to invest in urban schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and to recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, without compromise.
The No Child Left Behind Law

The school reform movement from 1983- 2008, including NCLB, was largely driven by corporate goals and corporate thinking. Corporate rule was established through the corporations influence and contributions to elected officials and their funding of “research” institutes. (Emery, 2007) This corporate view of school reform –called neo liberalism in economics- came to dominate the media and the government. Non corporate goals such as freedom, extending democracy, equal opportunity were driven from the curriculum and driven from the reform packages.
The corporate view, or neo liberalism , is more than an economic policy. It is also a political project which considers people primarily as consumers and negates or limits their view as citizens and as political actors. A glaring example of this is the development of charter schools and the vast expansion of private for profit higher education, ie. National Univesity, University of Phoenix, etc. As Robert Reich argues in Supercapitalism : the Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life , democracy ( including in school policies) has been over whelmed by capitalism and the corporate culture. The U.S. has experienced a corporate take over of our politics ( Reich, 2007). Corporate interests presently hold the majority of power in Washington and they established and protect the No Child Left Behind Law with its emphasis on testing and accountability. As corporate domination grows, non corporate institutions like schools and unions lose their access to the media and to the public conversation about schools and democracy as well as multiculturalism. Neoliberalism takes money from public systems, such as public schools, and transfers that money to private consumption thus public institutions lose resources. Developing democracy requires one form of education, pursuing neoliberalism requires a very different form of education. And, at present, clearly the neo-liberal agenda is winning particularly as advanced in law in the No Child Left Behind act of 2001 and stalled for re-authorization in 2008.

President Bush worked with political leaders in both parties to pass PL 107-110 - The No Child Left Behind Act In 2001. He considers it one of the major victories of his tenure. NCLB made assessment based reform (testing) and accountability the central components of a new national policy on school reform. The results of NCLB and the accountability drive are now in: like Katrina relief, NCLB has been a dismal failure.
On national tests given by the U.S. Department of Education, student achievement is either flat (as in 8th grade reading) or has improved less than in the days prior to NCLB. NCLB is bad policy because it is punitive to schools. It has caused nearly 40% of the nation's schools to be labeled "failing," and by 2014 over 90% of the schools will be declared to be failing. It is stupid to not recognize the differences between really failing schools and schools that are doing quite well. Under NCLB when a school is struggling, there is little help on the way, just more tests, more punishment: Fire the staff; close the school; turn the school over to private entrepreneurs (profiteers) , etc. 

Rather than facing the inequality of resources between schools, the NCLB imposed school reform efforts stress standardized testing. Current testing measures the ability to memorize small bits of information. It cannot measure critical thinking skills, the ability to function in a community or commitment to democratic principles. NCLB Testing has not improved schools, improved school funding, nor improved teaching.
NCLB and its state by state equivalents argue that the education system should operate primarily in service of the economic system. This is a business model of public schools, and we can see how well business is operating in the finance, credit, and banking system. This corporate view of school reform –called neo liberalism in economics- came to dominate the media and the government.
A substantial opposition to the re-authorization of NCLB developed in 2008. Its passage was blocked in Congress . NCLB will be re-written and re-authorized in 2009. NCLB testing does not, unfortunately, provide teachers with useful information on what to do to improve student learning and instruction. It also does not provide resources to improve the schools while it ignores the substantial inequality of resources in both schools and neighborhoods.
NCLB required that states develop their own standards and tests and that states must use test scores to determine if children are learning grade level skills in mathematics and reading. These requirements led to a narrow test driven curriculum which emphasizes reading and math in the early years.
According National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data there has been little improvement in student reading scores and only a small improvement in math scores. In California, with its large ELL population, there has been no measured improvement in scores by ELL students . At the same time The U.S. has one of the highest rates of high school drop outs in the industrialized world as well as one of the highest rates of incarceration for young people, particularly African American and Latino males.
The Bush Administration used NCLB sanctions including shifting money from public schools to private charters to respond to failing to raise test scores. The new Obama Administration has appointed Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education and Russylynn Ali, as director of the Civil Rights division of the department. Both believe that more testing, not less testing, will improve schools.
The U.SA. spends less per student than 16 other modern industrialized countries . And, California spends less per pupil than 47 other states when you adjust the figures for cost of living differences. The recent California budget crisis, where schools were again cut by over $ 11.6 billion dollars demonstrates the failure of the political system to adequately fund some of our schools.
Let us be clear about the reality of schools in our nation. Some middle-class schools could benefit from reform, but most middle-class schools work rather well. Most schools in urban areas, however, are unable to provide the equal educational opportunity. There will be no significant change in the quality of urban education without substantial new funds allocated to these schools. In the current economic crisis, while federal funds are being added, state funds ( over 80% of the school budget) are being cut. There will be no substantial school reform under these budget conditions.
When schools succeed for the middle class and fail for working-class students and students of color, schools contribute to a crippling division along economic and racial lines in our society.
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