The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Massachusetts Department of Education has some good news and some bad news.
First, the good news: In almost all measures public school students in Massachusetts are performing better on the MCAS tests that the Commonwealth uses to determine academic progress.
Now, the bad news: The number of public schools that are failing the grade in Massachusetts by Federal No Child Left Behind standards is exploding.
Here is the really confusing part- both of the above statements are based upon the same data.
In two separate stories appearing in the Boston Globe on September 9th, readers were given simultaneous story headlines: “Performance on MCAS rises again
” and “Twice as many schools labeled low-performing
In one article it was reported that almost all of the grades tested improved in almost every category. That is truly good news. However, the other article reported the number of “low performing” schools has jumped from 208 to around 400 in the past year, roughly every one in five public schools.
Massachusetts is in good company. Several states are shocked to find that some of their top public schools are now failing by the NCLB’s ridiculous criteria. The New York Times recently reported
that Jeb Bush proudly announced that two thirds of Florida’s schools were “high-performing”. Unfortunately his brother’s federal Department of Education cited 75% of his state’s schools as “low performing”. Maybe their mother can sort this one out.
I paid enough attention during Statistics 101 to know that such anomalies are possible, even with a fair and balanced measuring stick. This is no anomaly. The problem is that the No Child Left Behind act is a terrible measuring stick and the problem will only get worse every year from now on
Most recent criticisms of NCLB have focused on the fact that many of the laws mandates have gone under-funded in the Federal budget. The issue I am beginning to see is that the people who crafted the law’s requirements either have and agenda or they failed the logic and reasoning section of any standardized test they ever took.
On the surface the law claims to help every child by breaking student bodies into 16 separate groups, each of which must improve every year. It sure sounds good. But in practice it only takes a small hiccup in year-to-year test scores by any one of these 16 ethnic, gender and disability based subgroups of students to brand a school as under performing.
And by the year 2014, 100% of the students in each and every group must achieve “competency”. That includes the test groups with disabilities and language barriers.
You read correctly, 100%. If a school has a proportionately large special-ed department or a large recent immigrant population there will soon be trouble coming down the pipe, regardless of overall performance. Currently any great school that goes from 100% to 99% to 98% will be labeled a low performer as well. And any school that isn't perfect by 2014 gets lumped in too. There appears to be no way around it. That is, unless you do what our current Secretary of Education and NCLB cheerleader, Rod Paige, did while he was the Superintendent of the Houston Public School System.
A few years ago it was claimed that Dr. Paige performed the “Miracle in Houston”. We have since learned that the schools in the hometown of Enron simply cooked the books during his tenure to get the desired results. Our highest-ranking education official is also the same man who recently publicly joked that the National Education Association is a “terrorist organization”. If you combine his inexplicable job security with his anti-public teacher sentiments, it’s obvious he has friends in high places.
Which leads me to another not-so-obvious question. Why would a law be designed to ensure that a few years down the line almost all schools will fail? There are two possible answers- terminal incompetence or, more troubling, maybe there are those who would like to see the end of public education as we know it.
For decades, some hardcore conservatives have called for the abolishment of the Department of Education and an end to all Federal involvement in K-12 education. This is largely the same group of people who advocate using yours and my tax dollars to fund private and religious education.
Now these same voices think NCLB is the greatest thing since spiral bound notebooks. It kinda’ makes you wonder.