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Volume II, Number 8, October, 2004

Research-Based Delusions

The words should set off an alarm. While it is national policy to require "research-based" planning and purchasing, the term is bandied about with such reckless abandon that is rapidly coming to mean very little.

How could this be?

After decades of taking a relatively low profile regarding educational issues, the Ed Department has become the bastion of ideologues who have dramatic policy agendas they intend to impose across the nation.

At times the Ed Department uses the term "research-based" as a club to enforce directives and limit choices, as it did when it vetoed the reading program selected by the New York City Schools. See article "Beltway Bosses: It's Beltway or the Highway - DC Reading Bosses Dictate Programs for the Big Apple."

At other times, when truly "research-based" findings prove inconvenient or uncooperative, the Ed Department proceeds by fudging and misreporting the research, as it did with the issue of teacher certification, or it simply forges ahead without any research basis at all.

See article "Not One Dime!"

See article "Fuzzy Math, Fuzzy Reading and Fuzzy Science"

The insistence on so-called "research-based" planning and purchasing imposes a kind of blindness upon leaders.

We end up doing what is easy to study.

We end up buying products from huge companies who could afford to do studies (and own testing companies).

We narrow focus.

We treat students like widgets and hamburgers.

We oversimplify.

We cheapen.

We miss the point.

We avoid the magical, the majestic and the truly inspirational.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do!

While the Ed Department is quick to impose so-called "research-based" planning and purchasing" on public schools, it is quicker to exempt its own pet projects and pets from such scientific thinking or judgment.

To give credit where credit is due, this administration has taken this same opportunistic approach to science in so many aspects of public policy that leading scientists across many fields have joined together to protest the blatant politicization of science.

"Preeminent Scientists Protest Bush Administration's Misuse of Science"

Washington, D.C.—Today, more than 60 leading scientists—including Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors and university chairs and presidents—issued a statement calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking. According to the scientists, the Bush administration has, among other abuses, suppressed and distorted scientific analysis from federal agencies, and taken actions that have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels.

“Across a broad range of issues, the administration has undermined the quality of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government’s outstanding scientific personnel,” said Dr. Kurt Gottfried, emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University and Chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Whether the issue is lead paint, clean air or climate change, this behavior has serious consequences for all Americans.” 

We are seeing cynical misinformation and propaganda masquerading as science.

Sadly, there are too few voices challenging the Big Brother distortion of truth. Unfortunately, leaders of both political parties have climbed aboard this NCLB bandwagon and seem oblivious to the damage being done to schools and children in its name.

The Wages of Sin

When you tilt schools and education in the direction of those things most easily studied and measured, you impose a kind of starvation that is difficult to notice at first. It may take a decade or more before the negative consequences of NCLB become evident, especially since the most extreme impacts will fall, as they often do, on the very children and the families who can least afford the damage - those who attend the most disadvantaged of our schools.

While NCLB promises such families escape from supposedly incompetent, bungling bureaucrats and teachers who are portrayed as hopeless, mere movement of such children to other schools and programs does not work any miracles in itself, as is outlined in a companion article this month - "Charting (and Spinning) a Wasteful Course."

Words of Mass Deception

History will eventually show that NCLB is a fraud - a social policy that is flawed at its roots and damaging in its impacts, a huge experiment with the futures of our children that is based on conjecture, wishful thinking and right wing ideology. While the words and the promises seem appealing at first blush, the hidden agendas embedded in NCLB (privatization, choice and the destruction of the public schools) amount to something quite different from those words and promises.

© 2004 No Child Left and FNO Press, all rights reserved.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.