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NCLB: Duncan Cherry Picks NCLB History To Sell Waivers

image from www.susanohanian.orgIt was an evenly matched two v. two at today’s four-secretary panel on education policy, with the two Democratic appointees (Riley and Duncan) criticizing NCLB and the two Republican appointees (Spellings and Paige) defending. 

But Arne Duncan tossed up the most junk, especially when it came to his oft-repeated line about NCLB creating a “race to the bottom” as states lowered standards to avoid looking bad on AYP.

 Yes, it’s true, something like 24 states did lower their standards in the years following NCLB.  There’s nothing in the law to stop them from lowering proficiency thresholds, making tests easier and other such gimmicks besides some nonbinding language asking them not to and the reality that their scores would be compared to NAEP scores (as if they cared about that). 

However, Duncan forgot to mention a few things.

He forgot to mention that there were no complaints from him when Illinois lowered its standards, shortened the test, and made the questions easier. Nor did he mention that a bunch of states raised their standards in the years following NCLB. Fordham described the trend as a "walk to the middle." NCLB expert Sandy Kress says that 23 states lowered their standards (by an average of 19 percent) but 25 states raised their standards (by an average of 23 percent. 

Last but not least, Duncan conveniently forgot to mention that states have just the same incentives to mess with their proficiency cutoffs and other measures under Race To The Top and NCLB waivers as they did under NCLB.  In fact, given the highly individualized nature of NCLB waivers, it’s much much easier.  Points out former Miller staffer Charlie Barone:  "States can change achievement targets for all students and for subgroups. And redefine high school graduation to include things like GEDs."

I know, I know.  NCLB is so old.  Can't we just talk about something else.  But this isn't just ancient history -- it's happening now, in places like VA and DC and more to come.

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