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A More Punitive NCLB, but With a Nicer Name?

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Today's news on Obama's plan to revamp No Child Left Behind might fool the uninitiated that the administration's proposals will help solve the myriad problems that NCLB helped create -- too many schools labeled as failing, too much emphasis on standardized testing, and the use of harsh accountability measures that hurt rather than helped improve learning conditions at our public schools:

Rather than 100% student proficiency, the new proposal would have as its goal "college readiness" (as taken from the current emphasis of the Gates Foundation.) Schools and teachers would be evaluated on the basis of test score gains rather than absolute standards.

Here, from the AP story is the "spin" from the administration, of a supposedly less punitive approach:

In the proposed dismantling of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials would move away from punishing schools that don't meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students.

Yet what the administration is really proposing is even more punitive and will expand the pro-privatization and destabilizing policies represented in its "Race to the Top" slush fund, including school closures, charter takeovers, and/or supposed "turnaround models", where at least half the staff would be fired, to all the nation's lowest performing schools, or else risk having their Title one funds being withheld. From Education Week:

...the bottom 5 percent of schools would be forced to use the department's four turnaround models that now govern the Title I School Improvement Grant program. The next-lowest 5 percent would be on a "warning" list and be required to take action using research-based interventions, although the department would not mandate one of the four turnaround models.

The Title one program was originally created to try to equalize funding for poor schools. But these proposals, if adopted, would apparently be provided only to those schools that put into place the administration's heavy-handed "reforms". Again, from the AP:

.... for the first time in 45 years, the White House is proposing a $4 billion increase in federal education spending, most of which would go to increase the competition among states for grant money and move away from formula-based funding.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post accurately portrays the proposed changes this way:

The lowest achieving 5 percent of schools in every state will be punished even harder than under NCLB..... Obama today promised to treat teachers "like the professionals they are." What Obama and Duncan have in store for teachers makes one wonder just how they think professional teachers should actually be treated.

..... standardized test scores of students [would be linked] to teacher performance evaluations and pay. That means that all of the other factors that might go into a student's test score -- whether they are tired, or hungry, or can't see well, or have a toothache, or were distracted in class, or have test anxiety, etc. -- don't actually matter.

None of the distorting effects of basing teacher or school evaluation on standardized test scores alone will diminish under this system, even if they are now "value-added" measures, and in fact, would likely grow even more extreme, especially for our neediest schools.

Ignored are the significant methodological problems of fairly basing evaluations on value-added test scores, as pointed out by the National Academy of Sciences and other experts, who have warned of the unreliability of such measures, and their potentially damaging consequences.

In apparent response to complaints that the overemphasis on scores in reading and math in NCLB has driven out other parts of the curriculum, according to the NY Times,

"the administration says it will allow states to test subjects other than math and reading and use scores on those tests to rate their schools, though it will not require states to do so."

That's generous of them.

Nothing here is likely to achieve the goals that the administration supposedly has to attract experienced, quality teachers to work in our lowest performing schools; in fact, they would be likely to leave in droves, given the increased risks of being judged on unreliable test score gains and/or losing their jobs.

What else? Oh, yes, Duncan will change the name of the program:

"Duncan has said the name No Child Left Behind will be dropped because it is associated with a harsh law that punishes schools for not reaching benchmarks even if they've made big gains. He said the administration will work with Congress to come up with a new name."