Monday, August 11, 2008

Minnesota: 933 Failing Schools

I have never been a No Child Left Behind hater--at least not to the extent that many others are. I'm not opposed to testing kids in our schools and allowing people to make comparisons based on the results. I think that can be motivating. Those comparisons have to be reasonable, however, and at this point that is definitely not the case with No Child Left Behind. That has to make one wonder about the motives of those who set the program up, and especially about anyone who isn't willing to change it.

Minnesota has one of the best academic records of any state in the nation, and Edina High School, just to the west of Minneapolis, was recently listed in Newsweek as one of the top 100 schools in the nation. But the Minneapolis Star/Tribune recently ran an article telling how Minnesota schools and Edina fared under the ridiculous standards set up by No Child Left Behind:

As predicted, dozens more Minnesota schools -- including nationally respected Edina High School -- failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) this year under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The state Department of Education reports that 933 schools are now on the watch list based on statewide test scores. So why does that list keep growing in a state with one of the best academic achievement records in America?

Although I think the article unfairly blasts schools with "lower-performing kids," it also draws the obvious conclusion that there is something wrong with No Child Left Behind.

A signature Bush program, NCLB calls for all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. It also requires states to identify schools that miss the test benchmark. That bar is a moving target that keeps rising. Although state test scores improved slightly in 2008, the gains were not enough keep additional schools off the list.

The numbers are no surprise. A 2004 state legislative auditor's report projected that under current criteria nearly all Minnesota schools would fail to meet federal expectations in the next few years...

In 2005, 247 Minnesota schools landed on the list. Last year, the number rose to 729, and this year nearly half of the state's 1,900 schools fell short.

There are many who believe that No Child Left Behind is a conspiracy to bring about a full-scale voucher program for the nation or to completely privatize education in America. I have always been skeptical of conpiracy theories, but when the deck is so obviously stacked against public schools as they are with NCLB, you've got to be pretty thick-headed not to become a believer in this one.

6 Comments:

Blogger Mrs. C said...

WELCOME BACK, DENNIS!

OK I had to laugh out loud when I read the conspiracy to privatize education in America... like that's gonna happen LOL!! Funny start to the morning. Thanks. :]

I've read some of our local numbers and they use something called "safe harbor" so that they don't get penalized. Another way to cook the books is just to make the state standardized test easier, wouldn't you think? If it isn't a national test, you really AREN'T comparing apples to apples in any case.

Further reading shows that "groups" under 30 don't get counted in the numbers and that children can be opted out of the test altogether if they have developmental problems. But somehow my autistic kid (the 13 y.o. that goes to ps) with language problems can't get the test read to him and reworded? Yeah, he's gonna do well (eyeroll) and it's NOT FAIR to his teachers if they tie salary to his performance.

Also, what's up with comparing all the races to whites like we're the gold standard of scholastic achievement? Why aren't there programs in place to help whites catch up to Asians in math? My kids are being left behind. ;]

Hey, missed ya. Welcome back again! Did you get all the sales at Wal-Mart? We found five-cent notebooks.

8/13/2008 3:44 AM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

Welcome back!

Yikes! Even in Minnesota,home of Lake Woebegone, not all students are above average. To quote my old Grammy, "Who'd a thunk it?"

I don't really believe in the conspiracy theory but feel that the folks behind NCLB are a combination of terminal optomists and Chicken Littles. Few PEOPLE are proficient at many things, especially as measured by a one-time test. Yes, our schools could and need to improve but NCLB has been an expensive diversion from the real task.

8/13/2008 3:26 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., thanks for the welcome back, and thanks for commenting.

When NCLB sets a standard that is impossible for nearly every school in the nation to meet(100% proficiency) and then couples that with the threat of vouchers for schools who don't meet that standard, it's hard not to question the motives of those who set up the system.

Two years ago, our school system failed to meet its AYP in math. Since then, our kids' scores have improved, but we keep on falling farther behind because the bar keeps being raised.

There is something wrong with our math program. NCLB revealed that, and that's a good thing. But when the standard for improvement becomes impossible for us to meet, that is not a good thing. When the number of "failing schools" in Minnesota hits 50%, and one of them is Edina, that's a clue that something is fishy.

There has to be a middle ground--where weaknesses in a school are revealed, but standards for improvement are reasonable and achievable. Right now, that's not the case, and as long as it's not, one has to wonder what the real purpose of the program is.

8/13/2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

Under a law where every student in the United States is supposed to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, "reasonable and achievable" is impossible.

Most of the 1970s environmental laws had unrealistic timetables. The EPA was bound to fail in enforcing them. But the proponents did not want to make the EPA look stupid. No one really knew how to achieve the goals and it just sounded so gosh-darned good to make them tough.

I think the same thing happened here.

Can you imagine either Obama or McCain saying, "Look, it's just unreasonable to expect all students to attain a twelfth grade level in reading or math any time soon. Maybe we should try for eighty percent, and see what happens."

If either said it, the other would pounce, and just about every journalist would pile on. It would be a true Kinsley gaffe.

8/18/2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Zeke, thanks for the welcome back and thanks for the comment. I pretty much agree with you.

Roger, I think you make a good point. One thing that gives me hope is this: Just as it's hard to imagine either Obama or McCain saying something that implies "lower expectations" for students, it wasn't long ago that I couldn't imagine any politician saying the things that Obama has been saying to parents. That gives me some hope.

8/19/2008 3:14 AM  
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