THOMPSON: The Conveyor Belt
Rightly or wrongly, "reformers" want the nation’s entire k-12 school system to step up its game, and that could help explain where they went wrong. The conveyor belt that we call public education has many flaws, but it does a pretty good job of educating students who had the foresight to select effective parents, who learn to read for comprehension, and who develop the soft skills required by a student. Even in 23 struggling middle schools in Philadelphia, when a student attends class at a rate of 95% or above, puts out above average effort, and does not become a discipline problem, there is a 77% chance of closing the achievement gap.
Convinced that our whole educational system is collapsing, "reformers" set out to fix and speed up the entire conveyor belt while also addressing the very different problem of children who have fallen off the assembly line. By conflating the two distinctly different goals, NCLB supporters produced unintended consequences which have damaged both sets of students.
Robert Balfanz showed that schools where "tens" of students needed remediation, the after-school tutoring financed by NCLB could be successful. When hundreds of students need remediation, however, those schools are overwhelmed. Educators in those schools resemble the Lucy skit where she struggled to keep up with the speeding assembly line. A comedian can eat the chocolates that fall off the line. Teachers who are pressured to cover all of the standards in time for the tests can not go that far - literally. But there is an old saying, "feed the teachers or they will eat the kids." - John Thompson