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Media: More Misleading Descriptions Of NCLB

image from heartburn.immanuelnaz.com There are lots of things to like about the Washington Post's preview of the Obama waiver announcement tomorrow (Obama prepares to revamp ‘No Child Left Behind’), but the basic description of NCLB is misleading and inaccurate, creating the impression that the law has had much more (negative) impact on schools than the facts can support and omitting the benefits of the law that have civil rights groups and others extremely concerned about any changes.  Of course, this isn't the first time anyone's mischaracterized the requirements and the impact of the law but it's sad to see yet another example of a newspaper passing along unfounded criticisms of the law without stopping to ask whether they check out. Read below for all the details.

On the upside, education reporter Lyndsey Layton gets a couple of sly quotes from knowledgeable observers.  Former Hill staffer Jack Jennnings notes that the waivers give Duncan an opportunity to repeat the windfall that was Race To The Top, when Duncan "was left alone with his money, and took advantage of the opportunity."  NJ state chief Chris Cerf calls the waiver proposal “a very clever way to manage a political crisis." These underlying elements rarely get the attention they deserve in mainstream press reports that tend to focus on contemplating the chances of the waivers happening and the parlor game of what exactly will be required. 

The downside is Layton's description of NCLB, which is to my eyes overstated and unfairly negative.  For example, she describes NCLB's "potential consequences" as fired teachers, removed principals, and schools shut down.  Those things are commonly cited by NCLB critics in the Obama adminstration and they could all potentially happen, sure.  So could anything else.  I could potentially play on the US men's World Cup soccer team. The reality is that firings, removals, and shutdowns are neither common, or widespread.  They're actually quite unlikely outcomes -- and to the extent that they are happening, it's the Obama administration's own SIG school turnaround program that's the cause, not NCLB. (Someone should ask Duncan why he's all about providing relief to states from NCLB while at the same time he's cracking down on them (sort of) through SIG.) 

Moving along, Layton passes along the Administration's argument that states are dumbing down their own tests, writing that "nearly one-third “dummied down” standards to inflate test scores, according to a 2009 Education Department study." Hmm.  Nearly a third did that?  Seems like a really convoluted way of saying that more than two thirds of states are holding strong or ratcheting things up.

What's missing from the piece?  Much of any description of the law's benefits and positive impacts, which may be undercut by the waiver process, or any discussion of the Administration's checkered performance implementing and monitoring Race To The Top upon which the waivers will be based.  Some mention of how the Duncan folks have performed implementing this law for 12 states seems integral to any discussion of expanding it to all 50 states.

I know Layton is new to the beat and getting an earful from all sorts of powerful and savvy people and organizations, but I'd love for a more accurate, balanced take the next time around.  Also these are fairly persistent problems in coverage of NCLB and the waivers in the mainstream media.



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Alexander, you're probably correct that those "potential" consequences haven't actually occurred, at least not in any significant numbers. But it's not valid to compare them to a goofball example. They are logical consequences of the specifics of NCLB, while if there's anything in your life that might lead to a logical consequence of your playing on the World Cup soccer team, that's unknown to readers like me.

Many of us public-school advocates have been warning as vigorously as possible about those logical consequences for years, which in my opinion may well have some impact on WHY they haven't occurred.

As a side issue regarding the "dummied down" tests, I object to the sneering tone of phrases like "dummied down" in any case. That's especially because I believe that most of those sneering would still struggle with those tests -- especially journalists and the math sections. (This I know as a newsroom veteran. Newsrooms are hotbeds of hopeless innumeracy.)

Do you have any hard evidence of benefits of NCLB?

Alexander, your job is to provide media coverage for the cheats and liars who use NCLB to feed on our public education funding stream.

Sometimes, you do that by trying to seem independent or honest, and I gat hoodwinked for a while. It's because I'm a classroom teacher, and my opinion of humanity has been raised by my experiences with young people.

Then, you publish something like this. Are you cynically trying to give aid and comfort to your fellow perpetrators, on the grounds that the damage done isn't really so great? Or, do you really claim this to yourself?

Schools were taken over and shut down in Boston this year.

Across the state, here is a description, (from a for-profit "lead turnaround partner"'s website) of the schools targeted for "turnaround" last june:

"“By starting our turnaround efforts in these 35 schools, Massachusetts will begin its critical work to close our troubling achievement gap,” said Representative Marty Walz, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. ”It is gratifying to know that these children will no longer be left behind. Their schools will now have the ability to make rapid improvements.”

More than 17,000 mainly minority students attend the 35 schools. Nearly 9 out of 10 are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch based on family income, 21 percent are students with disabilities and 26 percent are limited English proficient.

Two-thirds of the schools are located in the Commonwealth’s two largest cities, Boston and Springfield. The other schools are in seven other cities: Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford and Worcester. In all, 20 are elementary schools, 8 are middle schools, 3 are K-8 schools and 4 are high schools.
Of the 35 schools, 33 were identified based on an analysis of 4-year trends in overall school performance, student growth and improvement as measured by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Two are schools previously identified as “chronically underperforming”.


Here's another instance of the harm you say you aren't really doing.

The New York-based Global Partnership Schools will take over at Harding once Schools Superintendent John Ramos draws up a contract that will specify what the district expects in return for a large chunk of an anticipated three-year, $2.1 million federal grant. Global Partnerships was started last year by Rudolph Crew, the former schools chancellor of New York City and Miami as well as Manny Rivera, twice the former schools superintendent in Rochester, NY.
With seven members present, board member Bobby Simmons was the lone nay vote. He questioned how widespread the request for proposals were advertised, and the size and makeup of the selection committee, which included no representatives from the Harding community.
He asked that the board be given a list of the stockholders and partners of the Varkey Group, Global’s parent company, and sought assurances from Ramos that he and his top staff would not seek employment from Global.

Yes, actually, there have been positive consequences to NCLB. A narrowing achievement gap, for example. A system that holds all schools - not just those educating poor kids - to the same standards. Unmasking of the huge gaps between the kids at the top of schools and those at the bottom, that are hidden by averaging achievement. Paraprofessionals that have some college education. Teachers teaching in field. Fewer students with disabilities just ignored during the year and at testing time.

The consequences named in earlier comments are due to SIG, which is newer than NCLB. In fact, there have been many studies showing that very little has happened in most schools that fail to meet NCLB's standards.

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