Monday, January 9, 2012

NCLB: An Anniversary I'd Rather Forget

Sol Stern sums up 10 years of NCLB with a great article at The Daily Beast.  He makes three or four key points.  First, NCLB is hopelessly optimistic and has rendered testing rather useless because it now becomes the test has become a goal rather than a measuring instrument.
Though well intentioned, NCLB’s perverse incentives left the door wide open to the corruption of educational standards. The law stipulated that all American students must become “proficient” in reading and math by 2014 --- a hopelessly utopian goal – and then set sanctions for those states that didn’t make “adequate yearly progress” in meeting that goal. But the law also allowed each state to determine its own proficiency standard. Since men are not angels, it was inevitable that state and local education authorities would dumb down the tests to make themselves look good to the feds and to the voters.
The framers of NCLB might have avoided this outcome if they had familiarized themselves with the work of the great American social scientist Donald Campbell. According to Campbell, “when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” That’s exactly what seems to have happened.
Second, NCLB pushed schools to lower standards and demand less from top students.
One other perverse incentive in NCLB: Because the law emphasized mere “proficiency” and rewarded schools for getting their students to achieve that fairly low standard, teachers and administrators were pressed to boost the test scores of their lowest-performing students but were given no such incentive to improve instruction for the brightest students – the nation’s future engineers and scientists.
Finally, things may not be getting better any time soon.
“We have to stop lying to children,” Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced last year at a meeting of the National Governors Association. “We have to look them in the eye and tell them the truth at every stage of their educational trajectory.” A nice sentiment, but Mr. Duncan concocted the biggest lie of all when he replaced NCLB’s 2014 proficiency goal with the pledge that all American children will be prepared for college-level work by the year 2020.

No comments: