Saturday, February 11, 2006

No Child Left Behind - Four Years and Doubting

Recently Bu$hCo announced in their SOTU yet another business friendly approach to woeful educational achievements of many our kids here in the good old USA. Michael Apple’s Educating the Right Way covers nicely the conservatives death grip on much of public education from what I can recall. We’ve now got John Boehner, who was right there for the last trip down the path to hell for education, leading the House ReThuglicans. I do so often miss the simple times when the majority of Republicans I knew were at least somewhat consistent on the 10th Amendment. Back to the SOTU, funding research for the Big Mules takes most of the dollars (Repeat after me - Welfare is good for business but bad for poor people!) yet there are some efforts proposed to get tougher math and science classes with better teachers to more kids, including poor children.

Four years into this misadventure, admittedly not breaking totally new ground in the accountability movement that has been gaining ground for twenty plus years, No Child Left Behind, more accurately No Data Obsessed Bureaucrat Left Behind or maybe No Pundit Left Behind, is perhaps at best a well-meaning program. NCLB however focuses on the symptoms rather than the causes of kids being left behind. It’s the Poverty Stupid! I forgive, up to a point, Ted Kennedy and some of the other Democrats like John Kerry as they were likely so motivated to get some federal money, which of course was pulled back from Bu$hCo, that they glossed over the many concerns raised by education policy experts. Nearly anybody watching this debacle today knows NCLB is likely yet another reform destined for the scrapheap that seems to characterize modern public education.

Research clearly show educators that out of school factors have the most significant influence on the learning of students. But Bu$hCo and the Chester Finn, Diane Ravitch, Milton Friedman, … performance based accountability crowd have won the war it seems and they didn’t do it based on their skills with the weapons. Damned if my Scots heritage isn’t preparation for being a Progressive! Advisors were hardly the best and the brightest in education policy yet nobody was so blatantly wrong as now infamous Rod Paige, Secretary of Education for the first term of Bu$hCo, elevated from his position as Superintendent of Houston City Schools who had there gamed the testing sytem in Texas. Of course it is comforting to know another experienced educator was selected by Bu$hCo to replace Rod the Nod. At least Margaret Spellings watches PBS enough to comment on their work as her first official act! Heifer!

The one thing that chaps my hide the most is to see how the conservatives have benefited the Big Mule textbook companies, canned curriculum providers/testing consultants and surely those that prepared these damnable tests. A kicker is that NCLB make the actual school required to provide proof that public schools aren’t doing that well. This is like a wet dream for Milton Friedman and some from the libertarian voucher and/or faith based crowd. Another few years down the road when many students are still rolling in and out of school with little or no learning having occurred these same conservatives will be situated to move public education even further toward their vision of reform.

To show just one fault of the legislation, NCLB holds some schools accountable on whether parents and caregivers make the kids come to school. The irony is that many schools selected attendance as something they could most easily address and yet my experience shows efforts from the school aren’t that effective. That a sorry adult has to be threatened with truancy officials and the like to do that basic part of the equation might show the politicians what educators all too often have to work with. I’ve yet to meet a politician that didn’t have an education plan and many from the business community think they could solve the problem if just given a chance. Standardized testing and accountability seems to be the conservatives answer to most of the mess yet I still think many are lurking about waiting to roll out vouchers and privatization.

Promises to close, meaning end not just reduce, the academic achievement gaps among groups of students from different ethnicities and circumstances plus assuring that every child has a high quality teacher sounds grand yet NCLB will likely drive many good educators out of the field and simply do far more harm than good. Innovative approaches such as reducing poverty concentrations seem to work yet that is a tough sell for some places, this being especially so I’d think in rural areas. Remember the ground that Nixon and the ReThuglicans (Tricky Dick’s Southern Strategy was of course borrowed from George Wallace per Professor Dan Carter! Plus Dr. Carter covers us up to Newt to boot!) gained with busing backlash and other connections with the Silent Majority? Don’t forget George Lakoff’s work on framing at The Rockridge Institute. I’ve also become very interested in High Schools that Work from a piece off PBS and then further inquiry into the Southern Regional Education Board.

Reduced teacher-student ratios, clerical help for professional educators to give them time to teach, alternative educational opportunities for especially demanding students, serious investments in early education, demanding curriculums, high expectation, tough teacher training that is learning theory based, good resources, safe and comfortable schools, healthy meals for students, top drawer pay for educators, and the like seems to help yet again the main factor remains apparently what is going on at home. Add all of this to the fact that the USA has a long history of anti-intellectualism and simply a dreadful popular culture and we’ve got a disaster in many places. From over-indulged kids to those that are used to constant stimulation from video games and other entertainment to some that simply have lazy dripping off them to the rare kids with snakes in their head to those bouncing off the wall to those … and the Captain has had his fill. Yet, working with the all too commonly unmotivated, poorly informed, marginally prepared, … and finally innovation resistant faculty members and bureaucrats has been the most frustrating experience. And don’t get the Captain started on bus duty, watching the lunchroom, making copies, and all the other wasting of my time and energy! So I’m bolting the school where I’m currently doing time and expect that I’ll hang out the shingle again. Still, I’m planning to remain in the fray and stay connected to education as I’d argue that true learning remains basically the foundation for effective democracy.

More to follow on this one! Peace … or War!

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