"Failing schools" is a meaningless characterization. I am frankly tired of how the phrase is bandied about in the press without any apparent understanding of what it means.
A "failing school" --almost always a school heavily populated with poor and disadvantaged students-- is simply one whose students have low standardized test scores. Test scores are not a legitimate standard by which to judge the quality of a school or the school's teachers. In fact, equating student performance on standardized tests with the "performance" of a school is an unethical misuse of otherwise useful data for teachers to use in their classrooms.
No Child Left Behind has pushed the idea of test-based school accountability beyond the limits of credibility. Furthermore, it has diverted attention --intentionally, I believe-- from the real problems confronting public schools.
I fervently hope that the new Congress will come to its senses and refuse to reauthorize NCLB.
Quotes added. Thanks for the comment.
I am an Oregon teacher, and I am in complete agreement! If we logically think about the goals of NCLB, we realize that they are inherently unreachable. The language of NCLB states that all students must be "at or above level," but this is determined by looking at averages. Do we need to give Bush a math lesson? Averages always include a standard deviation--that's the +/-. There will always be some students and schools below others.
My children go to school in a rural town in Eastern Oregon. Both are adopted. My oldest daughter was a straight A student, ran for 4 years on the cross country team where she helped them place 5th at state for the first time ever, and was a gifted violinist who competed in the state high school competition for 3 years. Her senior year she started having issues with her adoption, ran away from home and started having trouble at school. I tried to work with the schools to get her help and got no where. Even though she was passing all but one of her classes, but had just missed too many classes, the school kicked her out the right before graduation. So much for no child left behind. It would be one thing if she had been in trouble all through her school years, but not when it was such a dramatic turn around. She received no recognition for all her years of hard work. For a child with self esteem issues all ready, this will have a long term affect. My son has difficulty concentrating in school, also because of adoption issues. They just say he needs to work harder. I contacted the governor's office about the poor schools here, and his assistant's reply was "some people live in those small towns for other reasons than the schools." So I guess this means if you live in a small, rural area, you should just accept the poor school system. I will never vote for another school budget in this area again.
No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate designed to create an impossible situation for public schools so that private corporations can take over school systems through vouchers and other mean. It is the same strategy as the way the Republican administration handed military support operations to Haliburton and the energy policy to Enron. The results will be as inefficient and as disastrous as the administration's handling of the Katrina aftermath. It is another example of the neoconcervative plan to wreck public institutions and create an inferior private profiteering venture in its place. No Child Left Behind is designed for failure.
Conservatives are anti-"public schools" because they see them as "Socialism".
Conservatism has always created ignorance and poverty and used fear-mongering to do it.
Perhaps I could interject a fact or two:
In the final vote (post conference committee), more Democrats than Republicans voted for this in the House (D: 198 yes, 6 no, 7 didn't vote; R: 183 yes, 33 no, 5 didn't vote; I: 2 no) and only one fewer in the Senate (D: 43 yes, 6 no, 1 didn't vote; R: 44 yes, 3 no, 2 didn't vote; I: 1 no). The Oregon and Washington vote was unanimous for the legislation; this includes all members of the House (Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Darlene Hooley, Greg Walden, David Wu, Brian Baird, Norman Dicks, Jennifer Dunn, Doc Hastings, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, George Nethercutt, and Adam Smith) and Senate (Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Gordon Smith, and Ron Wyden (all names strung together from the Wahington Post's votes pages... for example, the Senate's is http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/107/senate/1/votes/371/ )).
I would submit these do not reflect the overriding mind-set of the archetypes of conservatism.
From what I can find, the most conservative of the Republicans complained about NCLB and prefer the "A PLUS" bills (S.893 and H.R.1539) that purport to provide opt-outs for the states to allow more local control.
Not saying I like either the NCLB legislation or the conservative alternative, but I want the conversation to have a bit of reality here. Please feel free to review the Library of Congress website if you feel I am misrepresenting those facts ( http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:h.r.00001: ).
Why is the focus on schools? Where is the responsibility of the child. I dare say that the schools are not failing but the child is failing and their parents are failing. If they knew what work their child needed to do the parents could work on reading and math to get them to passing at grade level. If your child is not doing as well as you think they should be look first at your child, then how you are doing as a parent, then the teacher.
Test scores have become a proxy for class and race.
By branding a school as "failing", we give middle class, white families a socially acceptable way to justify transferring their kids out of schools with large populations of poor and minority students.
The obsession with literacy and numeracy misses the big picture, and ultimately contributes to resegregation and a demonstrably less opportunity for poor and minority students.
Having just finished a class on evaluation and measurement of students, as part of a master's in teaching program, I am newly familiar with NCLB requirements. I feel that the underlying idea behind the law - to produce school accountability - is headed in a positive direction. However, the law has generated so much negative comment, that it obviously needs some fine tuning.
Instead of imposing sanctions upon schools (and in effect upon teachers) for low test scores or failure to meet AYP in 2 consecutive years, perhaps it would make more sense to offer workshops and/or other means of empowerment (which may be used to assist lower performing students) to those schools/teachers that are in need of such additional training. Pointing out problems without offering solutions does not help much. In my opinion, sanctions do not equal solutions.
Personally I am a cynic and have come to think that "No Child Left Behind" is a way to make the constantly proposed voucher system seem like a good idea by lumping all public schools into a "bad" category.
I do think our public schools need to change just to keep up with the world today and the changing needs of our students. This isn't the way to do it. This is a way for limited thinkers too create "numbers" that they think tels them sometthing and to confirm something that they already think is true.
It is vitally important to me to understand differing positions on important issues. In areas such as "trickle down" and market economics, "justice reform," and even the war, I have my own views, but I can also understand and even appreciate opposing views.
So I am hoping this morning to hear from proponents of Measure 5 and other similar "tax reforms," because I just cannot understand how there is anything to gain by starving our schools. The health, prosperity, public safety, cultural life, and economic viability of any society are all dependent on the education of the young. I am honestly hoping to hear some explanation of how the tax reformers think that weakening the schools can help us in any way.
My wife and I have two children, one who has already been in the portland schools for several years. I have always believed in (and attended) public schools, but I am increasingly horrified by the quality of education I am seeing, and it still seems to be dropping. We are strongly considering moving to another area, and the largest factor is finding an adequate school system. Note we're not even looking for an "outstanding" system, just adequate.
My daughter is in an elementary school that was recently converted to "K-8." I would rate this transition as an unqualified failure, by any standard. I believe the "NCLB" standardized testing approach is counterproductive at best. However, we must face that our schools are starving, and would fail any accurate measure or standard. The federal system may be problematic, but let's not let the conversation distract us from the fact that we as Oregonians are betraying our own children and futures by letting the schools die on the vine.
That's not on the feds. That's on us.
As a new teacher, having just earned my M.A.T. and starting in August, the focus has been entirely on standards and assessment. The irony (or tragedy) is that, although I feel prepared to teach my content area (HS English), my degree program did not include content-based classes. In other words, because of state and federal benchmarks, I have been indoctrinated in the ways of formative and summative assessment...but I have not been challenged to improve my literature, reading, and writing skills, which I would ostensibly transfer to my students.
I fear that the focus on standards--and, I should note that standards are, indeed, important--is taking away from the real pith of education: real knowledge, real skills. Filling in bubbles by no means demonstrates either.
As a roosevelt teacher, it is always hard to hear these discussions that focus on the negative side of our school. RHS teachers (regardless of the small school) are extremely dedicated and focused on preparing our students for college and life outside of high school.
Each small school has shown great growth in the last 4 years. POWER Academy last year, although we "failed", showed over a 50% increase in graduation rate from 50% to over 75% percent. We also more than doubled our math pass rate. Unfortunately, we only increased our reading by 6% (instead of the 10% needed for AYP) and are only at 54% passing. We know we can do better, but we also really are celebrating our success. Small school research says it takes roughly 5 years to really start seeing success. We will start our 5th year this year and are posed for a great year.
Graduation rate is extremely important but it is important to look at how it is calculated. If an eighth grader moves and since he is starting a new high school in a new state, they may never request his records and we will never know that he transfered to a school somewhere else. This student is reported as a high school drop out and hurts our graduation rate.
With the tests it is important to look at what the tests are and what they tell teachers. (The tests are different in each state). The tests although they tell teachers where kids are, they do not help diagose students weaknesses and provide very little information to help teachers teach better. And, I agree with Sue, we test kids three times, each test (math, reading, and science) takes kids at least 2-3 hours to take. When a kid takes 1 hour of math each day, that really means that their whole week is spent on math testing, the next week is science, and then the final week is reading, and this happens three times.
Portland Public's focus on data (and other pieces of data beyond AYP testing) does help us target struggling students and is helpful for schools. We are moving in the right direction, unfortunatly at a school like Roosevelt NCLB sactions and negative conversations hurt our forward progress.
What is frustrating for me about NCLB and the testing that accompanies it, is the lack of learning focus. As a teacher in Washington, I am responsible for teaching my middle school students the state produced learning requirements called Grade Level Expectations (GLEs). These learning requirements, I feel, are vastly more comprehensive than those assessed on the state test for NCLB. My problem is that one test drives instruction for schools rather than a diverse set of learning targets. Schools are now leaving behind important aspects of education - art, creativity, research, and higher level thinking in place of the skill set necessary to pass a standardized test. It is not a negative to assess students and have high expectations (those are necessary)however I believe it is a detriment to our students place such emphasis on one test.
washington middle school teacher
I thought that "No Child Left Behind" was brought about because the US was not keeping up with the rest of the world. When I was in school, Algebra was a 10th grade subject but, a friend of mine from Mexico was actually learning Algebra when she was in 6th grade. Children are capable; where is education as a priority for our culture?
NCLB appears to be a battle of bureaucracies mediated by statisticians - a recipe for endless debate without real change in the methods of education. Sadly it destroys the motivation of both teachers and students.
My public education in Arizona was a tedious and alienating exercise in forced feeding of information with dubious real world value that took all the natural joy of discovery out of learning.
While attending Central Oregon Community College as an adult I worked a summer in the math/computer lab which was based on taking a series of incremental competency tests. The students were mostly kids fresh from high school that failed the entrance math test and needed to pass the class to get into COCC for fall term. The class had a suggested schedule; but the kids could move as fast as they could learn the materials and pass the quizzes and final test. I have seldom seen such motivated students - working hard so they could get done and begin enjoying their summer proper.
If students were allowed to demonstrate incremental learning and move at their own pace and teachers were allowed to focus on just those students that were having difficulty learning a subject, education could once again become an enjoyable and naturally motivated life-long process.
Elementary schools tend to "meet" regularly. What happens in middle school? Well, as a middle school teacher for ten years, I can tell you that 7th and 8th graders have NO BUY IN. As elementary students, I think they want to please the teacher/parent and perform well. By their early teens, students do not have the same motivations. There are also no real consequences for "failing" the test for THEM. And they don't see the connection between how they perform and the school's AYP needs.
I work very hard to help me students achieve their maximum abilities, but that does not mean that ALL of them want to work at improving. Or that their parents have any buy in to this sytem of testing either.
The phrase "NCLB" was--and is--a political sound bite. And it's a game where the rules keep changing. How can my school be rated "exceptional" last year by the state, but then "not meet" this year??
Fair, I am relatively new to the bureaucratic vises of the Portland Public School System. But my understanding as to the purpose behind the initial implementation of the Public School System, was to empower our youth!!!
My understanding is that the underlying purpose for Public Schooling is to level the academic playing field for all students, without special consideration being made for their race, gender, or socio-economic status.
But let us be realistic about special consideration?
There have been a great deal of special considerations being made for schools comprised of students hailing from more affluent (socially stable) homes that afford, one or both parents the luxury of time, enabling those parents to play an active role in their student(s) education.
And there has been an ongoing lack of consideration for the students hailing from single family, and/or foster home situations that do not have the ability to provide the same level of support.
Instead of exposing all students to an opportunity to take part in the same level of education, we have simply assumed that these under supported students ?just don?t get it?!
So as a collective, we ?dumb down? academic programs, we omit upper level course offerings for the students we deem ?disadvantaged??and then we ask why a cycle of low income lawlessness persists.
Stupidity is a choice, ignorance is not! If those of us who have the control of the knowledge to empower our youth and then we systematically share that information in a way that is overtly inequitable?Where does the blame lie?
Am I to believe that we choose not to take responsibility for perpetuating this cycle of poverty and ignorance?
Perhaps our focus should be on a more comprehensive support system for every child!!!
How does an illiterate single mother of three educate her daughter on how to do better than she did?
I assure you, her daughter would face far more challenges in education than the daughter of a married couple (a college professor and a corporate executive).
As a community, how do we expose both of these young women to the knowledge that will enable them to be productive members of their communities? How to we empower both of them to understand that they are no more, or less than the other bases upon their starting point! How do we help them understand that their individual destinies are to be determined based upon what they choose to do with the equal education they have been offered!!!
I would challenge us start at the truth, and move forward from there?
I challenge us to ask the pertinent questions?then and only then may we attain significantly viable answers!!!
Make the same knowledge available to every student?insure that every student is made aware of what is available to him or her. Ensure that ignorance is no longer an option.
(I do not profess to have all of the answer to how this should work?but I am committed to focusing on the right questions?)
"(I do not profess to have all of the answer to how this should work?but I am committed to focusing on the right questions?)"
You're doing fine.
One of the first things I was taught in Engineering was that when you define the problem, you also define the solution. You're defining the right questions and that defines the right solutions.
Regarding schools improving and stepping up to the standards: I teach in an elementary Title 1 school and we have made many changes to our school math and reading curriculum and to our schedule in order to meet the state benchmarks. The way we have done it is by having students spend a big part of their school day preparing for the state tests. Students spend at least four months of the year being drilled on how to take and retake the online tests. They are pulled out of class to go and spend one on one time with an adult who listen to them read the test out loud or who will read the non-reading tests aloud to them. With all this help, students who are struggling in the classroom are able to pass the state test and make our school scores look good.
Drilling for the test means that there is now very little time for students to participate in art classes, science projects, or book projects. Our school scores are improving because as teachers we are getting much better at teaching to the tests and finding out ways to make the students pass them.. Please give me the old educational system back. This is the one where students questioned, researched, explored, created, worked on projects, . . .
"Please give me the old educational system back. This is the one where students questioned, researched, explored, created, worked on projects, . . ."
I couldn't agree more.
As an ESL teacher of kids who are recently arrived to the US, every year I go through the process of administering a test that the kids have zero chance of passing. Every year I have kids who look at me in despair. Having arrived 7, 8 months previous, they are now expected to take a test the requires them to read at grade level. It is extremely stressful for some kids, other kids click through the test and in 15 minutes, voila, they are no better off than if they agonized trying to comprehend and produce. Neither group of kid has much chance of passing (sorry, but research indicates that it takes anywhere from 5 to 7 years to learn a foreign language, I am not being cynical, merely realistic)
So from this perspective, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that while I agree with high standards, NCLB is broken. The kids that are designed to not be left behind end up having to look for options aside from the public school system.
The ESL kids, who are in addition to state tests have 2 other tests that they must take to see they level of advancement each year. One colleague quipped when this onslaught of tests began "Phew, I thought I might have to actually plan some lessons this year, but I can see that I won't have to do that much," in reference to the huge amount of testing these kids have. Keeping in mind that they might be taking each of the state tests up to 3 times.
So these kids, who are going to be in our communities very soon, I would ask whether NCLB is really helping them at all, even despite the best of intentions.
It is not the first time that I have wondered if the government has much grounding in the reality of our classrooms, particularly those of us with high free and reduced lunch populations, and high immigrant populations, which is the reality in East Portland, as well as many other places across the states.
There is an active discussion going on between featured guests Peter Campbell and Sarah Carlin Ames (and others) on [i][url=http://ppsequity.org/2008/08/06/open-letter-to-sarah-carlin-ames/]PPS Equity[/url][/i] for those interested in some follow-up.
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