Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Beatings Will Continue—NCLB Waivers At What Cost?

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
According to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), all children must be proficient in math and English by 2014. As that deadline approaches, analysts and even Education Secretary Arne Duncan are saying that the goal is unattainable. Duncan has claimed that over 80% of schools will soon be failing under the absurd requirements of the law, while some states are expected to approach 100% failure. With a Congress incapable of agreeing on the best method for wiping their butts, the Obama administration has given up on overhauling NCLB and, instead, intends to grant waivers to states, but only if they agree to as yet unspecified “reforms.”

Giving Away the Farm
Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said that states and school leaders will “do whatever it is you want us to do” to get out of NCLB mandates (quoted in the Washington Times). He expects the majority of states will apply for a waiver, despite the fact that the Obama administration won’t reveal the requirements until September. According to the Washington Times, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, Nevada and Oregon plan to apply, while Florida, New Hampshire, Montana are considering the idea.

While it is clear that school districts and states are desperate to get out of NCLB, they should be careful what they ask for. The main goal of NCLB was not to improve learning outcomes for students, but to make it easier for corporate interests to gain access to tax dollars earmarked for public education, through mandatory testing (a giveaway to test publishers) and, when schools continually fail to make “adequate yearly progress,” through conversion to private charter schools, mandated changes to curriculum (another giveaway to publishers) and mandated tutoring programs (a giveaway to private tutoring companies). Considering Obama and Duncan’s history of promoting charter schools, common core curriculum and teachers union busting through Race to the Top, it is likely that NCLB waivers will require more of the same.
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Rog Lucido, quoted by Schools Matter, suggests that waivers will be granted only if states agree to more testing.  Teachers, schools and districts will still be judged by student test scores, but the states, rather than the feds, would set the targets. He also says they will have to adopt a new set of standards (I’m assuming he’s referring to the Common Core Curriculum, which is a multi-billion dollar give away to the textbook publishers).  

Conservative education commentator Rick Hess (quoted by Mike Klonsky) thinks it’s just a back door route to the same Race to the Top goals. Of course this would be without the carrot of federal stimulus money, but would still entail school closings, mass teacher firings, and more charter schools.

Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters and Parents Across America, said “Duncan’s heavy-handed and prescriptive approach would only continue the trend of spending billions to build up the bureaucracy and provide excessive profits to testing companies and consultants, while teachers are being laid off and class sizes are growing throughout the country. Whether the system of rewards and punishments will be based on value-added test scores instead of absolute goals, the result is the same for our schools and our children: more money and time spent on testing and test prep instead of real learning.”

Rita Solnet of Palm Beach County School District Curriculum Council and Parents Across America said “Numerous studies conclude that incentives linked to high stakes tests do not increase learning. In fact, long term studies conclude this leads to a climate of cheating and gaming the system to survive. Every month we read of another major cheating scandal created by high-stakes testing. Stop wasting taxpayer money on failed policies. I am pleased Secretary Duncan acknowledged the destructive flaws within NCLB. NCLB is a train wreck. Let’s not replace it with another one. Let’s do this the right way so every child, regardless of disability, ELL status, family income level can be assured a high quality public education delivered by respected professionals.”

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