Saturday, September 24, 2011


""I was shocked. I said, 'How can that be,'" says Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, on Houston's West Side. His school claimed that no students – not a single one – had dropped out in 2001-2002. 
But that's not what Kimball saw: "I had been at the high school for three years, and I had seen many, many students, several hundred a year, go out the door. And I knew that they were quitting. They told me they were quitting." 

""I went to my counselor's office, and I told her, 'You're giving me the wrong classes, because I already passed 'em," says Perla. "So she said, 'Don't worry about it. I know what I'm doing. That's my job.'"
Perla spent three years in the ninth grade. She failed algebra, but passed it in summer school. Finally, she was promoted – right past 10th grade and that important test -- and into the 11th. Without enough credits to graduate, Perla dropped out. While she worked as a cashier, a secretary, and a waitress, she learned an important lesson: "I know I can't get a good job without a high school diploma."

No Child Left Behind began as a way to conceal how many Houston students were failing and dropping out of school.

The facade created by Rod Paige, superintendent of Houston schools and later, Bush's Secretary of Education, was that high stakes testing in the 10th grade would somehow improve education.

As anyone who has studied curriculum design knows, curriculum design starts with determining goals and desired outcomes (what knowledge and skills do we want students to learn?), developing strategies for attaining those outcomes (what will we do in class so kids learn what we want them to learn?), training educators in the techniques used to implement the strategies (how will we train teachers to succeed in meeting goals of classroom?), constructing evaluations to determine the success of the strategies (how can we determine that the kids have learned what we want them to learn?), and finally, designing a method for utilizing feedback from the evaluations to improve possibilities of achieving the desired outcomes (how can we use evaluation data to improve chances students will learn what we want them to learn?).

You begin to see that giving a standardized multiple choice test to every student in every school, regardless of the school's current curriculum or the student's abilities, is wrong in every possible way.

Creating a test in advance of the curriculum is laughable, akin to testing people on how to bake a pie after teaching them how to change a tire. It makes no sense.

Since the curriculum and test are not aligned, teachers, whose jobs depends on ever rising test scores, inevitably begin teaching to the test, disregarding their carefully designed curricula, and focusing instead on disconnected facts and trivia that make up the bulk of multiple choice test items. Multiple choice tests like those given by NCLB simply measure vocabulary and memory, ignoring critical thinking skills and other more complex forms of intelligence that are vital to student achievement. Thus, instead of producing students with critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary in the modern workplace, we create students who can excel at Trivial Pursuit.

The test scores, rather than used as a method to nurture the attainment of curriculum goals, are used to label schools as successes or failures, so the implementation of NCLB marked a significant waypoint in the public beginning to view schools negatively.

Soon after implementing the testing system Houston's test scores skyrocketed and student dropouts almost ceased to exist. A bunch of administrators got big bonuses.

George Bush was so impressed that he made Paige the Secretary of Education and applied Paige's model to the entire United States and is now known as the No Child Left Behind initiative. In Illinois and many other states, these required standardized tests are designed and implemented, not by local educators, but rather by politically connected educational testing corporations - for vast sums of money.

Soon after it became the law of the land, reporters, sensing that Houston's success seemed too good to be true, snooped around and discovered that the Texas Miracle, to use a Texas metaphor, was all hat and no cattle. It was a fraud. Dropout rates went to almost zero because a change in bookkeeping labeled dropouts as transfers. The actual dropout rate ranged from 25% to 50% depending on the school. The reason 10th grader's scores went up, reporters discovered, was that Houston's administrators quickly figured out they could earn cash bonuses for higher scores by holding back 9th graders who might do poorly on the test, then advancing them to 11th grade after two years in 9th grade, thus skipping the 10th grade test.

Rod Paige, a favorite of "run education like a business" advocates, managed to apply a form of a business accountability model to every school in the United States. Unfortunately, he chose his Houston neighbors Enron as the source of the model.

In 2015 NCLB would require that any school that has as much as one student who doesn't pass the standardized tests be considered a failing school. As any sentient being not crippled by ideology would acknowledge, this essentially means that, by NCLB standards, every school in America will be considered a failure by No Child Left Behind in 2015.

Yesterday Obama changed NCLB so that states can ask for waivers from many of the most absurd elements of NCLB. Given the history of this astonishingly wrong headed initiative I would have preferred that they get rid of it entirely. This is a start.

Read more:     Obama Offers Flexibility from NCLS     Christian Science Monitor
Read more:     The Texas Miracle     CBS News
Read more:     The NCLB Mirage     Jim Trelease
Read more:     Texas Miracle Revisited     NY Times