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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Yet Another "Texas Model" Federal Education Program. Yikes.

The federal "No Child Left Behind" program is based on a similar program implemented in Texas when George W. Bush was governor. Touted as "The Texas Miracle," the Texas version of "No Child" supposedly reduced dropout rates and improved student test scores astronomically.

As it turns out -- and this is old news -- the "Texas miracle" was more of a "Texas boondoggle." The numbers were cooked. The Columbia Journalism Review explains:

"We have no dropouts!” Robert Kimball declared in a sarcastic e-mail to his boss, the principal of Houston’s Sharpstown High School, in November 2002. Sharpstown had just reported that none of its 1,650 students had left without graduating or transferring elsewhere, and the assistant principal could not believe the math. “Amazing! We go from 1,000 freshmen to less than 300 seniors with no dropouts.”

*** Two other inner-city Houston high schools that ordinarily lost about half their students by graduation also reported zero dropouts. A dozen more schools reported losses of less than 1 percent.... Sharpstown’s teachers and administrators had received $75,000 in bonuses as accountability rewards for keeping children in school.

[But] [i]nvestigative reporters ... tracked down several actual dropouts, including a seventeen-year-old student who Sharpstown officials claimed was enrolled in a private school. In fact, she was working behind the counter at a Wendy’s. Following up on the story, Texas state auditors discovered that the district including Sharpstown falsely recorded nearly 3,000 high schoolers as “moved away” or “transferred” instead of as “dropouts.”

*** Houston was at the epicenter of the “Texas Miracle,” the standards and accountability reform movement championed by former Governor George W. Bush.... [Newspaper] stories revealed that scores of mostly black and Latino students in Houston were held back in the ninth grade for several years, enabling them to avoid taking the tenth-grade graduation exam, a test that had been diluted over time to include many questions better suited to sixth- through eighth-graders. Children who repeated ninth grade ended up dropping out in large numbers, and only half the students who did graduate went on to higher education. Not exactly the stuff of miracles.

In other words: the entire basis for "No Child Left Behind" was fabricated. A con job. An apparent miracle that actually involved smoke, distraction and piano wire, not real improvement. In fact, excellent teachers, with outstanding credentials, are being designated "unqualified" -- and their students' parents are being TOLD they are unqualified -- simply because "No Child" isn't flexible enough to recognize real excellence. Take the story of Oregon teacher Jonathan Steinhoff:

Last year I was a finalist for Teacher of the Year. Last year the National Geographic Society awarded me a $5,000 grant to help build an outdoor classroom with natural materials. Last year the Portland teachers association and school board asked me to mentor new teachers. Last year I trained a group of Portland teachers in the Tribes process, which nurtures supportive classroom communities.

Last week letters went home to the parents of my students telling them I'm not a "highly qualified" teacher. How can I fall so far in one year? Easy. I've been afflicted with the No Child Left Behind Curse.... In its push to "leave no child behind" the law disregards my license, even though it's issued by the state, which sets some of the toughest standards in the nation. My license says I'm qualified to teach English to speakers of other languages and bilingual education in specified subjects though grade 12.

But the new law doesn't recognize my qualifications because I, like other bilingual teachers, was encouraged to take college courses focusing on bilingual and special education. That left me without a few teaching methods courses [that "No Child" requires before granting the "highly qualified" designation].

Here's the "news" part of this post:

When a huge, new federal program is based on a lie, fails to accurately identify the best teachers, and otherwise falls on its face, what's a responsible government to do?

Why, more of the same, of course!

When Republican senators quietly tucked a major new student aid program into the 774-page budget bill last month, they not only approved a five-year, $3.75 billion initiative. They also set up what could be an important shift in American education: for the first time the federal government will rate the academic rigor of the nation's 18,000 high schools.

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide ... grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study"....

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.***

"I do not see this, at all, as an expansion of the federal role," Sally L. Stroup, an assistant secretary of education, said in an interview... Furthermore, states and communities can decide on their own whether their students will compete for the grants. "We don't force people to do anything," Ms. Stroup said.***

Like the No Child Left Behind law, the new grants are largely an effort to take a Texas idea nationwide. The legislation is modeled on the Texas Scholars program, begun during Mr. Bush's governorship, which enlisted certain Texas high schools and encouraged their students to take a "rigorous course of study."***

After Mr. Bush became president, his administration financed a Center for State Scholars, based in Austin, to spread a curriculum modeled on Texas Scholars nationwide. In the 2006 budget, he proposed supplemental Pell Grants for college freshmen and sophomores who had completed the "rigorous" curriculum outlined in the State Scholars initiative....

Democratic lawmakers said they were barely consulted.

"We were shut almost completely out of the process," said Representative George Miller of California, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.***

[U]nder the proposal approved by the Senate, Department of Education officials would need to scrutinize high school courses of study and discuss curricular matters with local officials to a degree that Washington officials never have.

"We haven't actually sat down yet and decided how we're going to go about it," Ms. Stroup said.

A larger role for the federal government in local education. Vague standards that no one in the government has any idea how to apply. Students unable to even apply for federal college funding simply because they happen to attend schools that do not meet the (undefined) standard for "rigor." The Democratic Party, which though a minority still represents half of the American people and historically is strongly interested in education, completely left out of the process. More nationwide education policy based on the discredited Texas model.

What's not to like?

See why I believe conservatives and liberals have a lot in common, and should band together in a movement to bring back common sense and restraint to government?

As I've said before: this is no way to run a nation.


Blogger OsakaJack said...

The quality of education will become unbalanced in the very near future. You will have a few people who have the best education and a very large percentage who are effectively 'dumbed down.' Dumb people are easier to control.

The counter argument, the obvious one, is that the military provides skills training. So with all the money being spent on the military, at least young people who dont have money for a good education can get job and life skills in the Army, get out, get a job and maybe go to college. However, a former student of mine told me that he received combat specific and basic training. Only. Zero time learning to type (part of his contract). Zero time with MS Office Suite (also part of his contract). No training on how to write a resume or to conduct yourself in an interview. Also, his USMC benefits only paid for his first year of school and he had to take out loans to pay for the rest.

As a conservative Republican, I believe an educated citizen who can stand their own in debate makes for a strong democracy. And the current administration is killing this country by killing its youth, figuratively and literally.

1/25/2006 4:04 PM  

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