A naive proposal: why don’t we establish national standards and national exams?
No Child Left Behind
had bi-partisan support in 2003 and was widely hailed. The law requires every school system that receives federal dollars to establish a system in which each school would have to reach preset goals, (Adequate Yearly Progress) measured by test scores each year until the entire school is “proficient” by 2014 … sort of the Lake Wobegon Effect
Some States began with “little steps” that increase sharply as they approach 2014 while others had the same steps every year. The measuring tool, the test, had to meet “recognized” standards.
If schools fail to meet AYP the school comes under continuing scrutiny, and, if progress if is not made the State is required to intervene, and, can close the school.
The New York State Education Department finally released the results of the ELA and Math grades 3-8 exams with fanfare, and, we see sharp increases across the State. Hurrah!
Is it the result of the infusion of new monies into the schools, an emphasis on test prep, the fear of NCLB penalties and sanctions, the setting of the scale scores, or, maybe the secret addition of omega-3 into the State reservoirs?
The answer, however, is simple: the Commissioner set the scores so that the scores jumped in comparison with last year … nothing fancy. This is nothing new. Each year the State reviews the results of Regents exams, and arbitrarily sets scale scores, the number of correct answers necessary for a passing grade. The 9th grade Math Regents, an “easy” exam to begin with, only requires 30 points out of a possible 84 for a passing score of 65, so reports Andrew Wolf in the New York Sun
In the morally bankrupt Department of Education the gnomes claim credit for the rising and the setting of the sun. Cheating is treated with a “wink and a nod” and numbers spin dross into gold. The model for increasing scores is Enron.
If States can set “baby steps” to meet AYP, if States can manipulate test scores to make themselves look better, if school systems can prevaricate, don’t we need a national system?
Shouldn’t all kids, whether in North Dakota or North Carolina have to meet the same standards? Isn’t mathematics, and reading and chemistry, and physics the same in every State?
“Let’s proudly present our vision of an America that offers all our children a fair start, a healthy start and a hopeful start in their journeys in life — the vision that inspires our ideals for community schools, healthcare for every family, college opportunity and career training for every American, and a strong and growing labor movement that empowers every worker and dignifies all work.”
Weingarten also argued that the No Child Left Behind Act is, in fact, leaving behind the very children it was intended to help, and has outlived its usefulness.
“These are the children who have the least opportunity outside the schoolhouse walls to be exposed to all the elements of a well-rounded education: the arts and physical fitness, the ability to think critically and to argue logically, the value of active citizenship, and a knowledge of different people and places. NCLB slams the schoolhouse door on what makes up modern civilization and replaces it with multiple choice questions,” she said.
“We need to prepare students for 21st century jobs. Employers say that they are looking for workers who can devise new solutions. But how will kids who have spent 12 years learning to keep their pencil marks inside the bubbles ever be able to think outside the box?”
A key aspect of Weingarten’s proposed solution is the expansion of the community school model — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together all the services and activities they and their families need under one roof.
“Imagine schools that are open all day, and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance; high schools that allow students to sign up for morning, afternoon or evening classes. And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and other services the community needs.”
Of course we require standards, but NCLB hasn’t achieved that, it has created the opposite, a school system based on test prep and scheme after scheme to lower standards and “game the test.”
It would be fascinating if Obama, swimming against the tide, supports a set of rigorous national standards that would raise the bar for all kids.