Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question!
There was an article in the Minneapolis StarTribune last weekend on No Child Left Behind. I've indicated before that I have mixed feelings about NCLB, but there was a quote at the end of this article that I've heard before from NCLB supporters, and it never fails to get my goat. It comes from Deputy Commissioner of Education in Minnesota, Chas Anderson, and it refers to the unreachable and ridiculous goal of having ALL kids proficient in everything by 2014.
"When people say that we can't hit 100 percent," she said, "I'll ask them, 'If it's not 100 percent, if it's 90 or 80 percent, then you need to tell us which 20 percent of kids we're going to leave behind.' And no one can answer that question."
I can answer that. The answer is, "We don't know!" We are talking about a statistic, and we are talking about dealing with human beings with wills of their own. No matter how good a job teachers and schools do, some students, for whatever reasons, aren't going to care about being proficient. We KNOW that there will be some students somewhere who, no matter how hard we try, we aren't going to be able to reach. Will it be Billy Thompson or Sally Wilson? I have no idea!
I am often amazed by the things that are done in modern medicine. They have made great progress in so many things. For example, the survival rate for breast cancer has continually increased. But I doubt very much that they are going to have a 100% survival rate by 2014. To set that as a goal, and to tell the medical profession they are failing if they don't reach that would be the height of stupidity. But if you ask, "Well, which women do you want to die?" no one is going to say, Betty Jones and Sally Garfield. We don't know which women will die, and we don't want any of them to, but we know that some probably will.
The article also had a quote from a supporter of No Child Left Behind that I can live with:
For St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, the law's implementation is imperfect. "But without it," she said, "we would have no leverage to bring to light the problems associated with the achievement gap, and that's at the heart of what the spirit of the law is about: Transparency. Are we doing the job or not?"
I think showing exactly where schools are is a good thing. I also think it's a good thing to set improvement goals, as long as those goals are reasonable. But when people make statements like the one Deputy Commissioner Anderson made, it's obvious that they are much more interested in playing politics with schools than they are in improving them.