NCLB Waivers: More Blackmail
“Dear Parents/Guardians: In Spring STAR testing, Kitayama Elementary School students made excellent gains. Overall, English/Language Arts scores in Grades 2 – 5 went up from 60% at or above state standards to 64%, and Math scores... from 66.2%...to 66.8%. Our Academic Performance Index rose from 828 to 841, well above the state’s goal of 800. However, because of increasingly stringent state and federal standards for achievement, our school has been identified as a Program Improvement (PI)…School under the federal No Child Left Behind [NCLB]…. All parents/guardians of students attending a PI school have the right to request a transfer of their child(ren) to a non-PI district school with district-paid transportation.”
So my school, Kitayama, must finally face the PI stigma. It was only a matter of time--for us, and for the 80% of the other California Title 1 schools now in PI.
You see, schools like Kitayama, with a large population of disadvantaged kids, receive federal Title 1 funding since their challenges are so great. And it is only such schools that face sanctions for not meeting NCLB benchmarks, culminating in 2014 when all students are required to be on grade level in Math and Language Arts.
Few if any schools could meet such pie-in-the-sky standards. But, in The Age of NCLB, only the schools catering to poor kids are punished.
(Can you imagine the federal government insisting that police departments everywhere completely eliminate crime by 2014; and, when they can’t, penalizing only those cities with high rates of poverty?)
The good news is that Kitayama’s community recognizes our school’s strengths. In fact, Kitayama became a prestigious California Distinguished School in 2010. (Oh, the irony!) The parents of only five of our students have chosen to transfer to a non-PI school. (Which didn’t meet the benchmarks, either, and may even have lower test scores. Oh, more irony!)
The bad news is that many other Title 1 schools may not be so fortunate. Once parents receive a similar letter to the one above, a brain-drain of the strongest kids and most educated parents may begin--the school diverting scarce education dollars to pay for their transportation--thus ensuring that next year’s test scores will be even lower. For many Title 1 schools, the PI designation will only precipitate an inevitable spiral into ruin.
Truth be told, federal PI sanctions have forced some of the worst California schools to finally confront their failure. A few, after replacing the principal and most of the staff, for example, have shown remarkable progress. But even they cannot hope to meet NCLB’s irrational standards.
We in education have long foreseen this ludicrous moment when all schools, Title 1 or not, would “fail.” However, instead of standing up as one and stating the obvious fact that the “Emperor” NCLB had no clothes, we’ve merely vied with each other not to be the first to earn the dreaded PI designation. In this respect, because of our cowardice and disunity, we’ve made the bed we now lie in.
President Obama and U.S. Superintendent of Education Arne Duncan finally acknowledged NCLB’s absurdity last Friday. But, instead of scrapping it and creating a more enlightened plan for education reform, they merely offered NCLB-PI waivers to states that agree to additional unfunded, unsupported-by-research federal mandates, including using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Only then will the pressure be off all but the worst Title 1 schools.
Couched as benevolent relief, the waivers are just more blackmail, of course. “Do what we want, or else the insanity will continue.”
And, if past is prologue, California and most other states will grudgingly comply, even though we know it to be wrong.
We will have to lie in that bed, too.
Unfortunately, so will all the children we’ve so cravenly betrayed yet again.
Published September 26, 2011, in The Argus and The Daily Review (Bay Area News Group)
Posted by DAVE ELLISON