NCLB Mail Bag

Cover_imageWe’ve received several reader e-mails* responding to the July Education Update cover story, “NCLB a Year Before Reauthorization.” Here’s what readers had to say:

I really enjoyed the short piece on NCLB in Update. Of all of the individuals quoted in the article, my hat is off to Kati Haycock. NCLB, while not perfect, does indeed put “wind in the sails” of educators nationwide. It has also showed us that EVERY CHILD CAN LEARN with good, sound instruction. NCLB is not about funding or testing…it IS about good, sound teaching.

Rick Hamilton, Chesterfield County, Va.

The recent ASCD newsletter included a summary of ASCD’s positions with respect to high-stakes testing and low-performing schools. Unfortunately, most of them are vacuous. Consider, for example, this first one: “ASCD supports…[methods of assessment]…that are fair, balanced, and grounded in the art and science of learning and teaching.” Now really: try to imagine someone disagreeing with this! “I support measures that are unfair and unbalanced and disconnected with the art and science of learning and teaching.” Or try to imagine someone saying, “OK, let’s do that.” How?

I urge ASCD to articulate how a large entity (state, city, or large school district) might feasibly and fairly go about determining on a large scale whether students are learning what they ought to be learning, and whether schools are doing what they should to help them. Until we propose good alternatives, high-stakes testing will remain the norm.

–Thomas McDougal, Chicago, Ill.

Missing from your article was any mention of having progress in the IEP for each special education [student] count toward AYP. Why would we instruct special education [students] using the legal IEP, and then assess their progress using a test that is designed for students two or three grade levels above the level set forth in the IEP? We do not assess other students who are not in special education with a test that is two or three years above their grade level.

The damage done by NCLB to some of the special education students is beyond comprehension. I see no merit in a law that has caused the harm to students that NCLB has.

–Mary Peterson

The “NCLB” article in July’s edition of [Education Update] was interesting, and I wish I could say thought provoking. Kati Haycock is quoted as saying NCLB was fundamentally about helping “the hidden kids.” If her view is correct, then she most likely realizes that there will be many, many more hidden kids in the future, due to the ineptness of those who conceived the law and the lack of understanding of those who approved it. One could say NCLB is rooted in those bankrupt theories of the Republican Party that consistently say you can get more for less no matter what the “more” is, or how much the “less” is. As the NCLB law has worked out, it is definitely underfunded–so how could it ever reach some of the lofty goals it espouses? More than that though is the pure and simple fact that not all humans are born with the same ability, or the capacity, for learning. Not all students need, or want, to go to college as Bill Gates and his foundation believe.

The most fundamental strength of the United States has been its public education system, and NCLB is an assault on that system. Our best students are better than they ever were, our middle students are better than they ever were, and our poorest performing students are better than they ever were. But give this law some time, and we will step into the quagmire of third world countries who all share one thing–their population is not educated. There is no free, public education. Disabled students still stay at home and really are “hidden.”

NCLB is a broken promise that all students will achieve grade level in reading, math, and science. Let me tell you, that is totally incorrect and useless in the debate to improve our schools for all kids. Testing is a measurement of the results of teaching, not the end in itself. The variety of schools, curriculum, teaching styles, administration, and funding is what has made this nation’s public schools the greatest experiment in the history of the world. To make the nation’s school system fall into lock-step in all of these areas is to make a mockery of what has gone before us.

Fortunately, we have an election every so often, and the system is given the opportunity to correct itself. It is time for this to happen. Let’s see what November 2006 brings our way before we reauthorize this most poorly written piece of legislation.

–Joe Denning, Bristol, N.H.

Your article, “NCLB a Year Before Reauthorization,” summarizes some important controversial issues introduced by the legislation, and its impact on the education community and the education of diverse populations of students. What seems to be missing from the American Enterprise Institute forum, as reported, is attention to what seem to be some monumental issues:

  1. The major goal and accountability measure for determining adequate yearly progress and whether NCLB is a “solution” or a “failed experiment” is closing achievement gaps among identified subgroups. There is no scientific evidence, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education (statistically significant differences between randomly assigned control and experimental groups) to demonstrate that an emphasis on standards/testing will lead to gaps closing.
  2. The challenges school systems face to close achievement gaps among subgroups have been blurred by a failure of the policy and education communities to distinguish the differences between the goal to improve achievement and the goal to close achievement gaps. The complexity of the latter goal requires explicit attention to the nature of the differences in achievement among groups, which can be broadly defined as differences in experiences, and the specific attention to the implications for teaching and learning. Decisions of educators/leadership across the country suggest that there is little or no awareness of this critical distinction, which leads to a search for a laundry list of strategies, millions spent on new materials, and satisfaction with entertaining staff development sessions.
  3. The policy further illustrates a serious failure to distinguish the dynamics impacting individual and group differences by including special education as a subgroup. Group dynamics impacting overrepresentation of some subgroups in special education are clearly addressed and funded under IDEA, and only contribute to lack of clarity in addressing group dynamics under NCLB.
  4. Available data reveals that only 32 percent of teachers surveyed express having adequate knowledge and skills necessary to teach diverse populations of students (Parsad et al, 2001). This reality is ignored in NCLB’s definition of a qualified teacher–which limits the requirement to certification in the content to be taught, and narrowly limits accountability to teachers and schools (higher education and state departments/boards are not identified).

NCLB will only succeed if

  • There is attention to key requirements necessary to develop the abilities of members of subgroups to become competitive,
  • Contributing citizens are centrally placed in the policy exchange in addition to the debates arguing federal or state authority,
  • [It receives] adequate funding, and
  • Assessments (standards) are rigorous and valid.

Policy outlining the necessary change in “how people think about their work” will require more explicit direction in the “wind behind the sails of people who are trying to bring about change.”

–Belinda Williams, editor and author of Closing the Achievement Gap: A Vision for Changing Beliefs and Practices (ASCD, 2003)

Add your voice to the discussion.

*These e-mails are edited lightly for clarity.