Friday, January 15, 2010

Sneaking up to the third rail.

If a ratio were calculated of how much something is griped about in private to how little in public, nothing in the education world would score higher than the 100 percent proficiency provision of No Child Left Behind. So many people think the goal is impossible, yet nobody in elected office says that publicly. Which poor child do you want to not achieve?

States are supposed to increase their proficiency targets over time until 2014, when schools and districts must hit 100 percent in order to make adequate yearly progress. It is no secret that states have tried to backload improvement targets so that they increase as little as possible, as late as possible. But trying to ditch the 100 percent altogether? That takes a whole other level of moxie.

Which was on display in Virginia this week, as the state board decided to attempt to freeze its proficiency targets (at 79 percent in math and 81 percent in reading), promising in later years to hit ... TBD. Officials don’t quite admit to it in this piece by Lauren Roth of the Virginian-Pilot, but I can only imagine it is a conscious gamble that by the time 2014 arrives, we will have a reauthorized law without the 100 percent rules. (Though at the rate reauthorization is going...?)

Ask around your state: Are they trying to ditch the 100 percent target too?


  1. I hope reporters who take up this idea will do it in the full awareness that the 100% is impossible -- it's BS; it's entirely a political sham. Savvy education reporters are well aware of that, but too often we see education coverage by political reporters or others who really don't get it. Linda's book "Tested," which I'm reading now, makes that clear.

    (The San Francisco Chronicle went through a little burst of embarrassing education features by entertainment writers, of all things -- the kind of stories that require some understanding of education to be sound journalism. This appears to have been the whim of a features/entertainment editor.)

  2. Hum, I find no shortage of teachers and administrators willing to complain about the law. Most of my sources say they wish it were recorded differently (ie. comparing cohort to cohort rather than grade bands year-to-year). Nobody here has tried to actually change the target, as is mentioned in your blog, though.

  3. "Which poor child do you want to not achieve?"

    That's a straw man argument, and you know it. When did you stop beating your children?

    Of course they WANT every child to succeed. But given the enormous issues that schools cannot address, and variations in student ability, we simply cannot EXPECT every student to be proficient every year in every subject.

    Some kids have trouble in 3rd grade. My parents sperated when I was in fifth grade. My brother had trouble making the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." Some kids change schools multiple times in a single year. Kids have uneven achievement paths, doing better some years and worse others -- often for reasons entirely outside of school's control.

    The 100% proficiency target ignores all of that variation, all of that reality. It ignores the fact that some kids develop more slowly than others. And it therefore requires the proficicency bar to be lowered far enough to be meaningless, so that all these kids can be proficient.

  4. Charlie Barone, defending NCLB, published a graph showing the actual targets given the loophole where a school can meet AYP by Safe Harbor. As I recall, it didn't even get us 2/3rds of the way to 100% proficiency.

    I believe NCLB would have been noticably less destructive, and somewhat more constructive, had that information been widely disseminated from the beginning. By setting impossible targets, NCLB:

    a) encouraged silly gambles to boost scores, rather than take the time to build a solid foundation for increased student learning,
    b) justified the use of loopholes and even falsehoods, and
    c) maximized CYA conflict as every group of educators sought scapegoats for the inevitable failure.

    When you know the patient is going to die, its more understandable that the practitioners concentrate on having him die on someone else's table.

    As I have being exploring in my blog posts, we're now going to invest in pre-school, socio-emtotional services etc. The question is whether concentrate on coordinating wrap-around services and integrate these new resources in a comprhenhensive manner.

    Or do we concentrate on closing loopholes in the old NCLB and devising intgrated, comprehensive accountability systems that can't be manipulated? I don't see how that's possible.

    More importantly, I don't see how it is humanly possible to concentrate on both of these goals at the same time. If the new ESEA looks and feels like the old NCLB, regardless of targets, I can't see how humans beings would respond differently. And that gets me back to Barone. Polls say that most teachers initially gave cautious support to NCLB. In the 90s we also talked the accountability talk as student performance was rising.

    Didn't we all think that NCLB would provide a bunch of new money, as well as new headaches? But who believed that the NCLB supporters actually believed what they were saying? Had we just done some of the same old half-assed accountability that was mostly talk, we could have still spent much (most?) of the new money on helping kids. When we found out the Bush administration was serious, and when facing the impossible, there was irrestible institutional pressure to just spread around the money to cover everything on the accountability checklists.