USNWR on NCLB

US News & World Report offers a set of articles on No Child Left Behind. See the November 12 issue.

Failing Schools are Hard to Fix offers some statistics on where schools are:

Nationwide, 4,509 schools serving more than 2 million children—or about 8 percent of all federally funded schools—have failed to bring enough students to grade level for four or more years straight, up from 2,790 schools in 2006. Most of these schools are in low-income, racial- and ethnic- minority districts in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

That’s probably sugar-coating the matter, when you compare the U.S. with other nations.

The article lays out the steps that, in theory, are supposed to happen:

Under the NCLB accountability system, schools in their fourth consecutive year of failure must take at least one “corrective action,” such as adopting a new curriculum, replacing some staff, or extending the school year. After six years of failure, schools face restructuring. The options here include handing control over to the state or to a private management company, bringing in an entirely new staff, and opening public charter schools in place of the failing schools.

We said “theoretically.” So how well have these reforms been carried out? It’s hard to tell, because they’ve not been implemented as often as they should be:

According to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report, none of these approaches were taken to fix about 40 percent of the 1,635 schools that have reported failure every year through 2005-2006. It suggests what some critics have said for some time: For the most part, state and local districts exploit loopholes in the federal law and employ other remedies, often without knowing how well those changes will work.

Education secretary Margaret Spelling says “We need to know how we are going to address those chronic underperformers. We don’t yet.”

And how has it been since the alarm was sounded about the need for change? At least since “A Nation at Risk,” in the early 1980s. Maybe it’s time to use more enterpreneurship (true charter schools, tax credits, vouchers), since the government-directed approach has not been a stunning success.

A Tough Test for English-Language Students suggests that alternative tests or accomodations should be included. Granted, non-native speaker have challenges. Then again, schools in Kansas get extra funds for those students. So not expecting results is not realistic.

Should Teachers Earn According to What Students Learn? asks a question to which we say “Yes–if we work it out.” It starts out telling us about a teacher who had reached the top of her salary scale in Miami, and was looking for the opportunity to earn more through a performance-based system in Denver. To his credit, the chairman of the House Education Committee in Washington D.C., has offered some support for the idea. But the obstacle, of course, is the teacher union.

Craig Richards, a professor of education in the Teachers College at Columbia University, says “It’s not that a performance-pay plan couldn’t work. It’s that no one has come up with a thoughtful way to do it.” Well, can somebody get on it?

Actually, there are some methods already in place, such as the TVAAS, used in Tennessee. Then there’s this:

In Florida, a legislative plan called Special Teachers Are Rewarded collapsed early this year after educators and their unions called the plan arbitrary, unfair, and divisive. The STAR program would have given bonuses only to the top 25 percent of teachers in the state, and it was based largely on student test scores. It disadvantaged librarians, art and music teachers, and others whose students were not tested.

That’s unfortunate. On the one hand, we might say “Some teachers whose students aren’t tested can’t get the bonuses. So what?” After all, the tested subjects are most likely to be the most significant ones, and hence should be the ones in which teachers have the best chance of getting rewards. On the other hand, it is possible to include these non-core teachers in a pay-for-performance plan. A school could, for example, offer a pot of money tied to performance pay, some of which would be available to all teachers (judged on the school performance as a whole), while the rest would be reserved for subject teachers (math, reading, science).

For Talented Students, Challenges to Grow echoes some complaints we offered up about NCLB a while ago.

Brielle’s experience exposes a cruel irony of NCLB policy: High-achieving kids who easily can pass the standardized test requirements are often overlooked as schools focus on raising the scores of those students in the middle of the curve.

One Standard Fits All discusses the fact that some states judge themselves on the curve–that is, rather favorably. Under NCLB, states determine what level on which test determines “proficient.”

The series closes with an interview with Secretary Spellings.  She gives the law credit for focusing on performance and on poor and minority children.

On whether the law distorts education by focusing on math and reading: “Reading and math are fundamental basic skills without which you can’t learn social studies, history, so on, and so forth. This is the right place to start.”

On the performance of non-native speakers of English: “If you’re testing kids in their native language for accountability purposes, which this [original] law allows for, you’re going to have potentially different results….Three quarters of the kids that are classified as ‘limited English proficient’ have been here for five years or more. Two thirds are United States citizens. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a citizen of the United States to get to the end of the third grade and read on grade level in English.”

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