Tuesday, April 19, 2005

But What About the Children?

So, I've collected these stories over the past couple of days, because I find them very interesting in our side's pursuit of education as an important electoral issue.

First off is this article from the Washington Post about graduation rates in Virginia And guess what, 4 year graduation rates have gone down for black and latino students since the state's high stakes test has been implemented. Of sickening note is the data at the bottom of the article that says the graduation rate in Fairfax is over 70%, while the rate in Norfolk is on the order of 40%. I'm not sure if this is entirely true. 40% is incredibly low, but I've learned to never underestimate the level of failure in American schools.

Many people would fault the implementation of high stakes testing for the decreased graduation rates in Virginia. Often you hear teachers talk about how students are not ready to take the test, and are just going to fail anyway, and their self-esteem will fall through the floor. Tests also put a heavy burden on states. Someone has to make these tests, collect all the data, and pay for that to happen. Connecticut has decided to sue the Federal government over the money that hasn't been given to them to carry out all this testing. This article has some background regarding that issue.

Now, I'm pretty up in the air as to whether Connecticut should be suing in this case, and whether they should win. The Federal government has created an unfunded mandate by not apporpriating the money that it promised when it passed NCLB, so there is something there. Connecticut may have a point about it not being absolutely necessary to test students every year, and its possible that it should have been granted the waiver it asked for from the Ed Dept. Finally, and possibly most importantly, I like anything that gives W some trouble. However, I'm not sure about the Constitutionality of the case, and whether or not Connecticut should just suck it up and deal when it comes to doing everything possible to educate its children. (Just go ahead and try to tell me that Kathy Lee and Martha Stewart pay what they truely owe in property taxes.)

But, the whole Connecticut dispute and the problems with graduation requirements shouldn't cause us to throw NCLB out the window, as this article tries to do.

My overused and joking title to this post ends up being exactly my point when I read the previous article. Passages such as this:

The harsh reality is that No Child Left Behind's annually stiffer requirements quickly become unreachable. They are pie-in-the sky targets based either on incredibly naive assumptions about how quickly schools can be reformed using "scientifically based methods,"


and,

Excellent schools and school districts cannot be cloned. They are relatively fragile environments that evolve over time under stable, inspiring leadership.


lead me to wonder about who the author is really caring about. Ok, so standardized tests aren't perfect. Great, but how else should we measure students and teachers. Because we know full well, if we don't measure all students in a state and demand that they learn something from year to year, the kids in Greenwich will be learning a whole lot more than the kids in Bridgeport. And yeah, schools are large, complex human structures, which are very difficult to duplicate. But the second quote sounds to me like a lot more handwashing than anything. Schools, just like people, are often going to need a push to grow. I'd rather try to duplicate environments that work and fail, rather than sit around and wait for the right set of environmental variables to coalesce. Because, again, we know in some places (because of poverty, lack of exposure, or previous failures) that simply isn't going to happen.

What about the children? What about the kids who can't read today? What about my kids? Because I know for damn sure that the author of the last article would be demanding accountability and be looking to have teachers' and principals' heads on a stick if his children were growing up in a school system where only 40% of its students graduated.

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