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NCLB Problems

Gambling with the Children

By Jamie McKenzie (Continued)

Lack of evidence for change strategies

Despite decades worth of evidence about making productive, lasting change in schools, many of the strategies employed by NCLB are untested and potentially both damaging and ineffectual.

Chief among these strategies is the notion that moving poorly performing children about from one school to another will improve the learning of those children and the performance of the schools themselves. Student performance improves when instruction improves, but that is not necessarily going to happen just because a student changes schools.

NCLB guidelines published in December, 2002 by the Ed Department, insist that parents of students in poorly performing schools be allowed to transfer them even if it causes overcrowding elsewhere.

In their zeal for parental choice, the NCLB advocates have created a potentially damaging system promoting even more transience than that level already frustrating many urban schools. Ironically, the statistical impact of a sudden flood of poorly performing students upon the average scores of a school could throw that school into a category of needing improvement while dramatically improving the average scores of the school being abandoned.

Systems theory cautions us about unanticipated changes popping up whenever pressures are applied like the ones coming from NCLB. If we measure only math and reading performance, for example, those scores may improve while other types of learning may decline.

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Too much focus on a narrow curriculum

NCLB's focus on just math and reading scores could have a profoundly undemocratic effect upon a generation of students in poorly performing schools, as schools may strip away much of the broad education that is their birthright in order to elevate scores on just two indicators.

Students in affluent schools with good scores may continue to enjoy a full range of subjects including art, social studies and science, while disadvantaged students are condemned to a second class education putting "Reading First" at the expense of a complete education. This preoccupation with LITERACY over all else sets up an increasingly two class society, with one group condemned to a lean diet of basic skills and the other getting the more complete diet associated with power and success in this society.

The goal of elevating the performance of all students is laudable, but the change in performance must be across the board on all subject areas.

In this respect, NCLB poses a major threat to states that have elected to test student performance in all areas, as those states will get no credit under NCLB for improvements made in other subject areas and they will soon feel the pressure to narrow their focus.

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Inadequate funding

While the administration likes to point to the large increases in spending for the education of the disadvantaged students under NCLB, funding must be viewed in the larger context of a lagging economy and huge state budget deficits.

NCLB creates huge demands upon local districts, many of which are not funded by the law. As just one example, under the Choice provisions of NCLB, LEAs must allow transfers of students from poorly performing Title I schools to good schools, but Title I funding will not follow that student to the new school.

Imagine you are principal of a school with good scores. You have been serving 400 students with considerable success. Suddenly 40 new students arrive from across town performing at the very bottom of the scale. They come to your building with no extra resources to turn around their poor performance. You have no special programs for such students and no teachers specially trained to work with such students. Your school has plenty of capacity to support the success of regularly performing students but no capacity to dramatically improve the performance of students reading several years below grade level.

NCLB's Choice provisions ignore such realities, suggesting that poorly performing students will somehow magically become good readers by moving to a school with good scores. The likelihood is that your previously successful school will find its average scores pulled down dramatically by the new arrivals. Since your school's performance is rated by disaggregating five sub categories of students and watching their scores, your school could rapidly decline into a poorly performing category.

So much for reform.

Many other provisions of NCLB such as a push for quality teachers and more professional development, while laudable, bring huge responsibilities to local districts that are not fully funded by NCLB.

State education budgets are in very bad shape these days as declining tax revenues have forced many governors and legislatures to make deep cuts. While some new money may flow to districts as a result of NCLB, the amount falls far short of the cuts being made at the state level.

Education Week reported in its December 4, 2002 issue:

"Governors: State Finances Worst Since World War II"
By Robert C. Johnston

Thirty-seven states were forced to cut some $12.8 billion from their enacted budgets in fiscal 2002, according to "The Fiscal Survey of States," which was released last week by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, both based in Washington.

States rights advocates in both parties have long complained against federal mandates that are incompletely funded. When adopting a change initiative as far reaching as NCLB, full funding of the "True Cost of Ownership" seems the responsible thing, but in this case, the ripple effects and financial impacts have only started to surface.

Improving student performance is ultimately a matter of improving the capacity of the system to deliver effective learning experiences to all students. Richard Elmore, professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, stresses the need to invest dramatically in teacher and school capacities to match the new emphasis upon achievement.

"The price of accountability: Want to improve schools? Invest in the people who work in them" at the NSDC site.
This article is excerpted from Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement: The Imperative for Professional Development in Education

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Punishment before capacity building

Apologists for NCLB play down its punishing aspects, but for those charged with the responsibility of turning around the performance of schools, the testing pressures seem to come down heavily way before new resources arrive to change the capacity of the school to make major improvements.

The labels attached to schools by NCLB are quite polite.

If a school fails to show progress with any two subsets of students for two years in a row, it must be identified as "needing improvement."

The popular press is less polite. The school is seen as failing. Despite protests to the contrary, the NCLB label is tantamount to a scarlet letter, especially since parents of children at that school are now given the choice to abandon the school.

"States Worry New Law Sets Schools Up to Fail:
Use of Test Scores Would Label Most Poor Performers
This January 2, 2003 Washington Post article by Michael A. Fletcher takes a probing look at the way schools will be judged failures by the new law and explains why many state and local leaders are complaining about unfairness.

There is little research applauding the benefits of fear, anxiety and threat as motivators to produce healthy organizational change. The attempt to transfer private marketplace competitive beliefs to schools is wrong-minded and simplistic.

Early in the 2002-2003 school year I sat while a superintendent announced to his staff that two of the district's high schools would be judged in need of improvement. The mood in the room was profoundly gloomy. The anticipation of harsh local headlines was the buzz at the coffee break. The specifics behind the labels were questionable. The impact on morale was damaging. The value for children? Unclear.

Typical of the local press coverage is this headline and article from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Schools flunk, but students get an out
By James Salzer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thousands of low-income Georgians are about to get the chance to have their children tutored at government expense.

Capacity building should precede heavy labels, blame and abandonment. The CHOICE provisions of NCLB might make some sense 5-6 years after substantial funding for capacity building, but they are applied early with the door wide open for disgruntled parents and children to flock to other schools or to other providers if there is no room at any other district schools. NCLB becomes a back-door strategy to open up the public system to a "free enterprise model" that uses public tax money to support previously private initiatives. The Department's rules also indicate that districts must consider sending students to other districts if there is not enough room in district schools, even though Congress did not mandate cross district choice.

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School choice Trojan horse

A minority of states have endorsed statewide school choice. Education Week reports that "Over the past eight years, 14 states, led by Minnesota, have accepted statewide choice plans, and over 20 states have considered them." (article)

Because of the Department's Choice guidelines, statewide school choice is effectively spread across the land. Despite repeated references to scientifically proven strategies, there is no credible evidence that moving to a different school leads to better reading, writing, math or science performance for each individual student.

Voucher and choice programs have been around for more than three decades with decidedly mixed results. While it might seem attractive on the surface to move to a different school, the experience of movement may differ dramatically from the rosy picture promoted by the Department of Ed and Choice advocates.

These realities are portrayed in some detail By Caroline Hendrie in an article in Education Week:

"Taking a Chance on Choice," Oct. 23, 2002

Many of these Georgia families found the experience frustrating and disappointing.

In large overcrowded districts like Los Angeles, there are simply not enough classrooms available. An article by Randy Ross in Education Week claims that there were just 1655 open enrollment slots open for high school students in 2002-2003 - one per cent of the enrollment in 49 high schools.

"School Choice Where None Exists." - December 4, 2002

Ross looks at a range of solutions to this dilemma and suggests that abandoning and closing buildings is no solution. He argues that more schools must be built and failing schools might be reconstituted.

What is apparent from the local fall-out from NCLB's Choice provisions is the lack of advanced planning and anticipation devoted to the consequences of such sweeping change.

Before we encourage parents to abandon ship it would seem responsible to develop reliable, trustworthy life rafts and new educational alternatives that were scientifically proven to offer something more than hope.

Hidden behind the smooth assurances that life will somehow be better in this brave new environment of school choice is an enormous flock of uncertainties and disappointments waiting to descend upon the unsuspecting.

We only have to look back at the excesses of the free market system in the past decade to note that such systems do not always nurture, safeguard or protect clients. It seems so ironic that the Department argues repeatedly for scientifically proven strategies but asks us to accept the value of school choice on what amounts to blind faith.

The parent assumes that a school with higher scores will take better care of a son or daughter, but the reverse may prove true in many cases.

Having worked in many affluent districts with highly performing schools and students, I sometimes had to struggle against a school's tendency to isolate poorly performing students in remedial programs that did little to advance their skill levels. In one district there was an insidious (but well intentioned) tendency to provide so much care and support to weak students that they suffered from "learned helplessness," a well researched condition that afflicts those who are given too much support and cut too many breaks.

Schools with high scores may have won them with superhuman efforts and skillful campaigns to enhance student, staff and school capacities, but they also may have been unwitting and fortunate beneficiaries of socially and economically advantaged children and families. If many of your students arriving reading in kindergarten and have already had 2-3 years of pre-school, the challenge of winning good scores is no stretch. Transforming the reading abilities of recent arrivals transferred thanks to NCLB is quite a different challenge.

If we seek transformation of student performance, we would look for schools that can provide evidence of transformation. The possession of high scores is not evidence of the capacity to transform student performance.

Not all schools with high scores are healthy for children. They may have punishing, brutal social climates with high levels of intolerance and conflict. Being social organizations, the character of individual schools is hard to judge by the simplistic numbers promoted by choice advocates as a way of assessing quality.

Parents would be wise to ask about school climate, school values and the capacity of the school and teachers to meet the needs of their daughters and sons. Asking and getting honest answers is difficult in times when such a premium is placed on marketing and putting one's best face forward.

"Buyer Beware!" is a consumer challenge as soon as school choice becomes a reality. How does a parent find the right placement? How does a parent sort through the marketing claims of various options?

If large numbers of students transfer to new schools, the impact on those schools could dramatically change the quality of learning in those schools. We are all familiar with the highly rated restaurant phenomenon whose review triples the number of customers, overloads the chef, creates long lines and undermines the quality of the dining experience. The same can happen to schools if 60 new students suddenly arrive with a history of school difficulties.

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Diversion of funding to home-schooling, corporate schools

States and towns are already stretched thin trying to provide quality teachers, adequate buildings and effective learning opportunities to the public school population. Many teachers and students report each day to buildings that are in bad shape.

A report on school facilities released by the NEA:

A nationwide school infrastructure crisis. A recent NEA study, "Modernizing Our Schools: What Will It Cost?,"estimated the nationwide cost of repairing, renovating, or building school facilities, and installing modern educational technology at $322 billion – nearly three times previous government estimates, and roughly ten times what states currently spend."

Despite the inadequacy of funding for public school students, various groups have sought for decades to divide that limited pie across a much larger population, sharing funding with private and parochial schools.

With its fuzzy rules about what is public and what is private, NCLB represents a huge BOOT in this door. In some states where it is listed as a "public school charter." The Department is funding programs such as Bill Bennett's K12.COM. At their Web site, K12 repeats the word "public" over and over again, but this description is a huge stretch of the term. K12 may be providing homeschooling at public expense, but that is the only justification for the use of the term. Words and their meanings are being intentionally twisted.

The stakes for corporations like K12's corporate funder, Milken's Knowledge Universe, are enormous. If they can qualify in all states to grab the homeschooling market as a "supplemental provider" approved by the Department of Ed. With 1.5 million homeschoolers currently paying their own way for the most part, the diversion of public funds to pay for homeschooling represents a WINDFALL for the corporations but a disaster for public schools.

We have seen a series of corporate school ventures in recent years intent on capturing public market share. Edison and others have come with great promises to a variety of suburban and urban districts promising radical improvements via supposedly sophisticated "corporate" management strategies. These companies have won (and often lost) a succession of public school beach heads in districts as diverse as McKinney (TX) and Baltimore (MD). Results have often been quite different from those promised.

NCLB widens the door for such ventures to gain more beach heads, even though the scientific evidence of effectiveness is lacking. As the CHOICE provisions of NCLB force districts to find some place for students in poorly performing schools, these companies can put on the sheep's clothing of "charter schools" and win a growing market share of students wanting new schools.

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Packaging over content

NCLB is not what it claims to be. Portrayed as a sensitive, almost progressive effort to lift disadvantaged students out of their poorly performing schools and deliver them their share of the American Dream, the reality of NCLB falls far short.

The failure of this country to educate disadvantaged children is a crime and a shame. NCLB is laudable in addressing that failure. Where it falls short is the development of capacity. The law is heavy on tests, labels and gimmicks like school choice but light on capacity development. Lurking behind the rhetoric is an impatience with public schools and an unwavering belief in the benefits of competitive systems.

In many respects, the CHOICE provisions of NCLB will work something like a computer virus or worm to infect, undermine and replace the public system with a variety of options until American schools, whether they be independent, religious, corporate or public, will all expect a big check from Uncle Sam, the state and the town to help pay the bills. One only need to visit Australia to see federal funding distributed across all types of schools.

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Top down mandates

One of the most insidious effects of NCLB is the imposition of simplistic solutions from the national government that often conflict with efforts launched at the state and local level.

Suddenly we are told there is one good way to teach reading. In a profession challenged by the complexity of changing student performance, we are suddenly told there IS a silver bullet, a scientifically proven single approach to reading instruction that we can count on to save this generation of poorly performing students. What a relief! For those of us who have been struggling with this challenge for almost four decades, this announcement is astounding.

In forty years I have seen at least 40 silver bullets advanced with great hoopla, none of which lived up to their promises. Not so long ago we had an extended love affair with the Madeline Hunter approach. In a few years the promising early research wandered off into insignificance.

Proclaiming certainty when there is none is misleading. Translating these certainties into prescriptions and government mandates is bad policy.

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Scientific evidence for TA (Technical Assistance)?

The notion that we should make decisions based on solid scientific evidence is appealing, yet seductively misleading when it comes to effective educational practices. The data regarding what works and does not work is often confounded and contradictory, with one set of studies coming to the opposite conclusion than a different set of studies.

Complicating this imprecision is the frequency of conflict of interest - studies conducted by vendors or advocates of a strategy that are laced with violations of objectivity. When an educational bandwagon comes along, early research is often more testimonial in nature than scientific. Fans of the program collect soft data on surveys and in interviews that is then use to "prove" benefits. In some cases, they call for volunteers to carry out the new strategy while non-enthusiasts are assigned to control groups. In some projects, grandiose claims are made for success that is probably explained by what is called the Hawthorne Effect - the tendency of groups to work harder and better when studied.

We have decades of research demonstrating that educational practices must be radically revised to fit each local context - each school, each classroom and each student. We might all welcome recipes and procedures that were guaranteed to work, but none have ever appeared, despite the claims of the current administration.

Some leaders suggest we transfer the supposedly reliable and scientific methods of medicine and business to the field of education, but student learning is not a matter of biology or factory products. Besides, the claims made for medical science conflict with the facts. Some of this positivist, factory oriented research might work when flipping burgers, but children are not hamburgers and teaching them to read is not like dipping fries in hot oil.

Recent headlines about the push for women to use hormonal therapy and the wavering, wandering understandings of cancer treatment mirror some of the uncertainties and challenges facing schools. Medicine has its own uncertainties and gray areas that do not easily bend to science or to research.

Those who speak in such condescending tones about transferring these research methods to education are patronizing and ill-informed. Their science is far from perfect in their own fields and their understanding of the educational world is very limited.

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Too little focus on social causes of poor performance

Despite decades of evidence that poor school performance is shaped in part by poverty, neglect and various social disadvantages, NCLB does little to alter those root causes. Anyone with a true commitment to turning around the performance of disadvantaged children would address all aspects of the malfunctioning system, from housing, employment and medical care to pre-schooling (Head Start) and school improvement.

An earlier President Bush set extravagant goals for the year 2000, most of which were never attained. Our memories are short, evidently . . .

By the Year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn...

* All children will have access to high-quality and
developmentally appropriate preschool programs
that prepare children for school;
* Every parent in the United States will be a child’s
first teacher and devote time each day to helping
such parent’s preschool child learn, and parents will
have access to the training and support parents
need; and
* Children will receive the nutrition, physical activity
experiences, and health care needed to arrive at
school with healthy minds and bodies, and to
maintain the mental alertness necessary to be
prepared to learn.

The Administration for Children and Families

How are we doing on these goals?

In the state of Georgia alone, The Georgia Head Start Association, Inc. claims "121, 000 Head Start eligible children age 0-5 were not served, due to lack of funding." (source)

In Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Head Start Association reports "Even so, in Pennsylvania, we were able to provide Head Start to less than half of the three-and four-year-olds eligible for Head Start." (source)

What is happening in Congress to improve funding of Head Start in 2002/2003?

The New Hampshire Head Start Association reported this Fall:

The Senate Appropriations Committee has recently completed work on Head Start funding. The Committee recommended an increase of $332 million over last year’s funding amount for Head Start. While the Senate Appropriations Committee’s request falls short of the $1 billion the National Head Start Association requested, it actually provides more than the Bush Administration’s $130 million proposal and will allow 17,000 additional children to receive Head Start services.

Without full funding of Head Start, we will continue to see waves of disadvantaged children entering school without the foundations for school success. When their performance and their scores are disappointing, NCLB will point the finger of blame at the schools in which they are enrolled, while a major share of the responsibility for disappointing school performance rests with those have failed to fund pre-school programs at adequate levels.

There are other issues contributing to school failure related to diet, medical care, and life conditions associated with poverty. The Annie E. Casey Foundation ( provides data outlining the scope of such problems for children and their families.

Children at Risk: State Trends 1990-2000, a PRB/KIDS COUNT report based on the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey. This publication looks at changes in 11 key measures of child well-being between 1990 and 2000. Changes are provided on a state-by-state basis, and national figures are presented with state figures to help readers quickly ascertain whether a state has improved more than average over the 1990s and which dimensions of children’s lives have changed the most over the past decade.

What happened to Goals 2000? It is one thing to proclaim grand goals - quite another to fund them.

Stepping up school accountability for poor performance without addressing all the root causes is neither fair nor likely to succeed. It is half-hearted and wrong-minded.

There is a very large gap between rhetoric and commitment.

To put this gap in perspective, consider the $670 billion tax-cut plan offered by the administration as this article goes to press in January of 2003. Proponents of Head Start look for a billion dollar increase to reach more poor children. The administration proposes eliminating taxes on dividends paid mainly to affluent Americans while continuing to underfund the goals set by an earlier Bush administration.

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Violation of separation of church and state

For a long time, this country operated with a sense that there should be a clear line separating church and state with regard to education. Given the religious prosecution suffered by many of the founding people back in Europe, tolerance was thought to be well served by keeping the government out of the churches and the churches out of the schools. That seems to be changing as the current administration lays out a welcome mat and starts to divert public funds to faith-based providers:
Press Release
December 12, 2002
Melinda Malico or Sonya Sanchez
President Bush Unveils New Guidance Empowering Faith-Based and Community Groups to Provide Extra Academic Help to Low-Income Students
Philadelphia—Appearing at a faith-based conference today, President George W. Bush announced several steps that will strengthen his administration's compassion agenda by making it easier for America's faith-based and community groups to work with the federal government to help the nation's neediest.
One important step taken by the U.S. Department of Education is the adoption of guidance for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that will ensure that faith-based and community organizations are eligible to provide supplemental educational services under the new law. (source)

In June of 2002, the Supreme Court approved faith-based charter schools in Cleveland, Ohio, opening the door to the public funding of schooling by religious groups. Central to the decision was the argument that parental choice somehow negated the issue of church/state separation.

While the impact of the Cleveland decision is minor at this point in time, the long term prospects for the privatization of the educational system are now quite promising for those who have been fighting for that shift for several decades. The precedent has been set. The road is paved. A few test cases have rolled down that road successfully and the convoy cannot be too far behind.

Remaining obstacles to the convoy - state constitutional restrictions against public funding of church schools - may find themselves under great pressure during the next few years as NCLB opens the door to faith-based supplemental educational services. The present composition of the Supreme Court seems sympathetic to this shift in national policy and is unlikely to slow the change.

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Violation of state rights

Under President Reagan there was a move to decentralize government, sending funds to states to spend in ways that local groups felt would do the most good. NCLB is heavy-handed and filled with rules that conflict in various ways with many of the reform efforts already launched in many states.

When the federal government has taken a strong regulatory role in matters such as clean air and water, many legislators have argued for less regulation and suggested that these issues are better handled by the states. In recent years we have seen efforts - some of them disastrous - to de-regulate the banking and power industries in various ways. Recent problems with stock brokerage firms, Enron and inflated energy prices had their root, in part at least, in this zeal for de-regulation and fervent trust in free market forces.

NCLB is a curious blend of over-regulation and local fragmentation, as the strong arm of the federal government mandates a system of choice, change and religion that most states have resisted. The wishes of local voters are being trumped by federal legislators and departmental rule writers. While states and localities may have some choices once they begin to play the new educational game, many of those choices actually set in motion an avalanche of free market gimmicks those districts would not have selected voluntarily.

Localities only have choice if they have extra space to allow students to move about the district within the public system. If they are over-crowded, the regulations require that they offer parents an expanded menu that might include transfers to other districts, charter programs and religious tutoring.

The message of NCLB is that "You have no CHOICE about CHOICE."

Many states like Massachusetts and Michigan have begun modifying their systems to match the federal mandates . . .

December 11, 2002

Mass. Retools Ratings System
In Bid to Jibe With ESEA

By Andrew Trotter in Education Week

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Invasion by corporate charters

Many proponents of charter schools early in the movement stressed the advantages of parents and community members inventing highly customized, special school learning programs that would nurture their children far more sensitively than the public schools.

At this stage we are seeing what amounts to franchising sponsored by large corporations who are eager to help local groups apply for charter status while using (and buying) the parent company's curriculum products.

Instead of customization, we are seeing conglomeration. Schools will serve up learning much like fast food hamburgers as groups adopt packaged program and fund them with public money.

The Edison Schools are one corporate model that has reached quite a few schools:

Edison Schools, founded in 1992 as The Edison Project, is the country's leading private manager of public schools. Edison has now implemented its school design in 150 public schools, including many charter schools, which it operates under management contracts with local school districts and charter boards. Approximately 80,000 students currently attend Edison partnership schools. (source)

Another player in this field is National Heritage Academies Inc. The Wall Street Journal reports that, "While the nation's largest school management company, Edison Schools Inc., is struggling to stay in business, Grand Rapid-based National Heritage Academies Inc. is doing well financially." (source - "Charter School Oper Skims 'Cheap' Students - Critics" - January 9, 2003)

The back-to-basics curriculum does not vary from school to school -every fifth grade class in every school learns the same lessons at the same time.

The Journal made the following comment on Edison's finances on January 3, 2003 - "On Monday, Edison reiterated that it expects to record its first-ever profit in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2003 and end the fiscal year with $25 million cash on the balance sheet." (source)

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Helter Skelter movement of students

"Taking a Chance on Choice," Oct. 23, 2002. By Caroline Hendrie in Education Week does an excellent job of covering the turmoil, surprise, disappointment and realities of school transfers in one county outside of Atlanta. Choice is not always Nirvana.
Helter Skelter
Written By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Get to the bottom and I see you again
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Helter skelter
Helter skelter
Helter skelter.

Crossing town to supposedly effective schools does not automatically lead to better learning experiences for the children, as outlined in some detail in a previous section - School choice Trojan horse. A quarter of the children participating in Florida's choice program went back to the public schools, for example:

"Paper: Many Voucher Pupils Return to Fla. Public Schools ," Nov. 13, 2002. Education Week (source)

More than one in four Florida students who accepted state-financed vouchers to attend private schools this semester have returned to the state's public education system, a survey by The Miami Herald has found.

Last summer, 607 students requested such tuition vouchers to leave public schools that had received failing grades from the state. Twenty-eight percent of those students, or 170, had returned to public schools as of Nov. 1, according to a survey of local school districts conducted by the newspaper.

When liberals tried to counter the effects of racial segregation in the 1970s with school busing, many conservatives complained that it was destroying neighborhood schools and doing very little good for the children involved. Now we have busing for a different purpose defended and suggested by some of the same folks who opposed busing for desegregation.

Where is the scientific evidence that movement of students promotes strong school performance?

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False Orthodoxies

Education being a complex and organic human experience, there are few certainties and few recipes that can be counted upon to deliver results. If a student is having difficulty learning to read, for example, an effective teacher may run through a dozen or more different strategies and combinations of strategies to change the learning pattern, Altering patterns of failure and frustration is not a simple, straightforward or highly scientific process.

Even though some companies and some experts claim that they know the best strategies and have combined them into nice packages that all teachers can use comfortably and successfully, no such package has ever withstood the test of time. The silver bullets of the 1970s that were heralded as "best practice" did not work the miracles their promoters had promised. And so it is with silver bullets of each decade.

NCLB promotes a sense that turning around student performance is a simple matter of getting all teachers to use proven models. NCLB advances a standardization of learning and schooling (in contrast to choice offered elsewhere) that implies that teaching students to perform is something like cooking hamburgers.

The insistence upon a particular approach to reading or any other learning area is dangerous because it deskills teachers, ignores decades of craft knowledge and places undue reliance upon formulas and templates. Scripting teachers to teach in particular ways with a limited repertoire would act to weaken rather than strengthen the prospects of this generation of students.

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Political Motivation

Despite assurances to the contrary, NCLB is a radical shift in the very structure of education that is more about privatization than improvement. Many of the promised improvements are poorly grounded in the very scientific data that is now so fashionable to reference.

We see very little evidence to justify the scale of this change effort and the very timing of the CHOICE provisions seems directed by an effort to win votes rather than help children and schools to improve.

While the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, parents and children will often learn that it is hard work to conquer reading problems no matter what school you attend.

There is no good reason to rush some of the early provisions of this new system other than political motivation to score points with constituencies who have become frustrated with their local schools.

Playing to those frustrations may make good politics, but it does not necessarily improve the long term prospects of children or schools.

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It is reckless and irresponsible to set in motion this Pandora's Box of changes, many of which are untested and unproven. Early experiments with choice, vouchers, charters and corporate franchising are far from convincing. Wise leaders move more cautiously and more judiciously. NCLB is a policy lunge of mammoth proportions. Poorly grounded on data and scientific research evidence, NCLB is an assault on the public education system rather than a well intentioned reform effort. It is more about abandonment, punishment and privatization than true reform.

This law should be radically amended or repealed.

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© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.