Will NCLB’s Clear “Dramatic Failure by its Own Chosen Indicators” Prompt Florida’s Own Pushback Against Ed Reform?

Teacher, writer and education activist Anthony Cody offers this critique of NCLB:

Remember that this law set itself the goal of making every child in the nation proficient by 2014, and eliminating the achievement gap between ethnic groups. So NCLB, perhaps the least popular law ever to blight our schools, has been a dramatic failure by its own chosen indicators.

Secretary Duncan has been using the very disaster this law has become to coerce states into applying for waivers. Since Congress has not changed the law, it continues its cruel machinations on autopilot, and soon will label more than three fourths of the schools in the nation as failures. So Secretary Duncan has offered states the next generation of sure- fire reforms cooked up by his hothouse experts. These reforms have been the core to Race to the Top, so fortunately we have had a chance to see them in practice

Race to the Top is No Child Left Behind on steroids and even more coercive. More top-down, too. Local school boards are already struggling with its mandates and strings. Cody explains why. Its through the waiver process:

To get a waiver, a state must comply with several key conditions. They must put in place teacher and principal evaluation systems that include student test scores. They also must create new standards for college and career readiness, and embrace the new national Common Core Standards.

States must essentially impose NCLB’s mandates on themselves and include the most burdensome, costly and time-consuming aspects of education reform. Push-back is underway in states like New York.  And as Cody points out, in Tennessee where Michelle Rhee’s ex-husband is the state’s education commissioner. It is in Cody’s home state of California where the most significant awakening is underway.

In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper that published teachers names and rated their effectiveness according to their test scores, has discovered that, just as many of us have been warning, an tremendous pressure to raise test scores results in poor practices, including cheating. Some in the media are paying attention and raising some red flags.

The Orange County Register, located in perhaps the state of California’s most conservative county, reported that fulfilling the requirements of the NCLB waivers would cost the state $3.1 billion. This money would need to be spent on the teacher and principal evaluation system, a new college and career readiness program, and supporting the new Common Core standards. This does not even include the cost of the next generation of tests which the big publishers are working on to go with the Common Core. California’s State Superintendent Tom Torlakson has expressed doubts about the wisdom of this expenditure, given the state’s precarious fiscal position. Furthermore, Governor Jerry Brown has been one of the most prescient voices speaking out against our obsession with testing, and has shown a willingness to buck the testing mania.

Cody is onto something as well by pointing out that it could be that test-based reform’s most powerful opponents are states.

I  believe states have a great deal more power than they realize. This reminds me of times as a teacher, when I wanted my students to do something they did not want to do. If a few students grumble but go along, no problem. If my best students stand up and rebel, I may need to rethink my lesson plan. If some of the nation’s largest states defy the Department of Education, the team in Washington has got to pay attention. More than ten percent of the nation’s students are in California’s schools, and Californians pay more than 13% of all federal taxes.  Will the Federal government continue to punish our students with a law that has become, in the words of Arne Duncan himself, “a trainwreck”? And if other states are paying attention to what is happening down in Tennessee, and start to tally the real costs associated with the waivers, California may have some more company soon.

Florida’s policy-makers have done a good job of shielding such raw numbers from the electorate. They know they wouldn’t like it. Such cost awareness when included with what Floridians already know about education dollars being dramatically shifted to private corporations would be hard to justify. They already double-speak how RttT funds will be used in such a way that appears to be deliberately misleading. As its becoming known around the state that the legislature has not providing funding to pay teachers via SB736’s merit pay system, the other shoe will drop when taxpayers find out how much their test-based regime actually costs.  Maybe this will begin Florida’s pushback.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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