Maybe YOUR child can lag behind: another bite at NCLB waivers

In an earlier post I talked about the political firestorm that erupted when newspapers broke the story that the Obama administration had approved a No Child Left Behind waiver for Virginia set that set different, and lower, standards for minority kids.

Virginia state officials quickly backtracked. But it turns out that they had lots of company.

As Education Week reported earlier this week,

Given the flexibility to revise their academic goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, a vast majority of the states that received federal waivers are setting different expectations for different subgroups of students, an Education Week analysis shows. That marks a dramatic shift in policy and philosophy from the original law.

I have no quarrel with abandoning the unrealistic 100 percent proficiency standard . . . though I’m still puzzled about why the Department of Education can unilaterally rewrite a law passed by both houses of Congress and signed by a president. Guess I misled hundreds of government students when I taught them “how a bill becomes a law.”

But I’m still troubled by the report that almost all states, including Utah, have followed Virginia’s example.

“Offered the new flexibility, only eight states—Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Oregon—set the same targets for all students, according to the Education Week analysis of the 34 new state accountability plans. (Wisconsin has the same goal in 2017 for all students, but sets different targets until then.)

Here’s the report on Utah:

Utah Goals include: 76 percent proficiency in math in grades 3-8 for black students, 91 percent for white students, and 83 percent for low-income students.

And this doesn’t even address another big problem with the proficiency standards, which is how low many states  have set the bar for ALL students.

Maybe rigid standards aren’t the best approach, though like some of the commentators in this article I wonder if far more nebulous “college and career ready” standards are really a good substitute for the admittedly narrow, but still hard data that basic proficiency tests provide.

But I really, really dislike writing lower expectations into law.

One comment

  1. Carolyn Sharette

    I have waited a couple of weeks to opine about the development of setting different benchmarks for different ethnicities because it is breathtakingly awful, wrongheaded and shocking. Having such an emotional response, I realized I needed to take some time to ponder and listen to advocates of such a racist policy. I have read the reports out of Florida, listened to the justifications by legislators and school chiefs, and have tried and tried to open my mind to this idea – to no avail.

    It is simply wrong on a moral and ethical basis to separate out subgroups and set different standards. If there were some benefit to it – some value – that would create a “means justifying the ends” perhaps it would be worth the terrible damage it does. Alas, there is no such value to simply wrongheaded thinking.

    From my viewpoint, NCLB provided a way for us to SEE that subgroups were being left behind at greater rates than others. This was VERY valuable, as it forced us, as a nation, to see what was happening and face it. Some amazing educators got busy, opening charter schools in inner cities and trying to learn what the best practices were for the populations suffering the achievement gap. Pockets of mainstream public schools also made some significant progress. What should have happened: their successes and failures should have been studied from a data-intensive view. Variables should have been studied. Dissemination of effective programs and practices to other schools with strong implementation and management support, and directives if necessary, should have been the next step.

    What really happened? Great work was done. Some schools have learned how to close the achievement gap. Instead of being studied and copied, they are marginalized, criticized, and shut out with ridiculous excuses like “well, charters cream students” or “they have more money” or any one of multiple useless excuses that allow people to ignore the only important factors- WHAT are they teaching, WHEN are they teaching it, and HOW are they teaching kids to mastery?

    So, we have a decade of answers, all being ignored by the mainstream education world. Minority kids are failing and dropping out in great, tragic numbers. What is their latest and greatest idea? LOWER THE EXPECTATIONS for minority kids. WHAT???

    Their justification: NCLB required 100%. It was not “realistic”. Lowering it to a more “realistic” number will do exactly what? Suddenly produce the curriculum and pedagogy and expertise in schools that will get them to the standard? In this new approach, they are implying that it was the 100% that was holding them back from doing the right thing for kids. Ridiculous. And very harmful to our kids to have different standards depending upon their race. And, may I add, very harmful for teachers as well.

    The problem is the same it has been for 10 years and the answer is VERY simple. If a school has the will and the expertise, it can teach kids to mastery. We know this. If it doesn’t, it can’t. We MUST focus on those 2 things – will and expertise. First, we determine which they lack (perhaps both) and then address it.

    The expertise exists as demonstrated in many successful at-risk schools nationwide. Underperforming schools must be forced to adopt successful programs and methods (expertise) and change their will if need be.

    Thinking that changing the standard will somehow make any positive difference is just one more distraction from doing what must be done: at this point it is clear that some (many) schools must be forced to teach students to mastery, using proven programs and practices. Until that occurs, everything else is just an exercise in futility.

    This particular distraction of lowering standards depending upon race, however, is actually harmful and nonsensical – not to mention racist and should be protested by citizens everywhere.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.