Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What’s the plan?

As I wrote in my last post, I wish our school board members would tell us whether they think No Child Left Behind’s policy of pursuing higher standardized test scores at any cost is bad for our kids. That policy is the central feature of American education today, and drives many of our district’s practices. So I think the board members, and the board collectively, should have a position on it -- preferably one strongly condemning it.

But at the very least, I’d sure like to know their plan for dealing with No Child Left Behind over the next few years. Several of our schools have already been designated “schools in need of assistance” (“SINA schools”). The district is required to accommodate parents who want to transfer their children out of a SINA school; my kids’ school took in so many transfers that it had to add a temporary building to have enough classroom space. Enrollment at the SINA schools has dwindled so much that one school board member has questioned how those schools can “survive.” Yet the number of SINA schools can only increase. Under No Child Left Behind, all schools are expected to achieve one-hundred percent proficiency on math and reading test scores by 2014 -- a mere three years from now. Even some of the best public schools in the country -- for example, the New Trier schools in suburban Chicago -- have failed to meet the No Child Left Behind standards. There isn’t a school in our district that is likely to achieve one-hundred percent proficiency by 2014, or ever.

As the number of SINA schools grows, and the number of non-SINA schools shrinks, how does our district plan to accommodate the parents who want to transfer from the former to the latter? Will the district just move students out of established buildings at the SINA schools and into temporary trailers at the non-SINA schools? And that will increase test scores how, exactly?

And what is the district’s plan for dealing with those ever-escalating testing benchmarks? Is it just to do whatever it takes to get those scores up? Will they find new ways to pile more “instructional minutes” on the kids? Lunch can’t get much shorter, so will they continue to cut back on recess time? Or is it art, music, and gym that will go? Will six-year-olds get an hour-and-a-half of math every morning, instead of the hour they currently get? Will the kids have to stay at school even later into the afternoon? Will we send them back to school in July, instead of mid-August as we do now? And what new disciplinary techniques will the district introduce to keep the students “on task”? Will the kids receive even more instruction on the importance of being quiet and obedient? Will first-graders be expected to sit still for even longer periods of time?

What will happen to the teachers and principals at the schools that fail to meet the benchmarks? Will they ultimately all be fired? If so, who will replace them? Is there any reason to think the replacements will squeeze more testing points out of the kids? Is there any reason to think talented and dedicated people will continue to choose to work in such a system?

I suspect that the plainly unrealistic nature of the one-hundred-percent proficiency requirement enables our school officials to think that if they simply lay low, No Child Left Behind will eventually be amended and they will be saved from having to confront these questions. But in fact, the Obama administration’s plans for amending the law have been derailed by the election of a Republican Congress. And there’s no reason to think that any amendments to the law will change its basic policy of pursuing increased standardized test scores at any cost, and penalizing schools that fail to meet test score targets.

So what’s the plan?


FedUpMom said...

Chris, great post. (It would make a great guest post too!)

NCLB was designed so that every public school in the country will ultimately fail.

I think everyone in the public schools has been hoping the act would be gutted before the 2014 deadline, but they are out of luck. Obama shows zero understanding of the issues, and he's been playing by the Republican rulebook recently anyway (don't get me started!)

You ask "what's the plan?" Everyone who currently has a job is planning to hold on to it any way they can. That's the plan.

KD said...

I agree that the SINA provision that allows students to transfer to other schools is very troublesome, for a variety of reasons.

My own opinion is that some of the School Board members thought that Obama would take care of NCLB, and they wouldn't have to take a stand. I believe that is especially true for some of the Board members who have terms that expire this fall. I'll be curious to see who in that bunch runs again.

Chris said...

Thanks, FedUpMom -- I've been meaning to post a couple of these over at KFS but didn't want to bump the Reflective Educator down too quickly. I'll put one up tonight.

Julie said...

My biggest concern as an elementary sped tchr for 23 years is when is more testing going to be enough? I pre-test and post-test sped kids for gen ed tests. Why? We already know that they are behind their grade level peers, thats why they are in the sped program. We waste more money on standardized tests on Sped and ELL students to find out that they cant read and/speak English. As our minority population continues to grow in this country, we will continue to see more kids that cant speak and read English! Thus the scores are brought down and the percentage of SINA schools increases. Why not take out the scores of the SPED and ELL and see what the scores look like? SPED already has Individual Education Plans (IEP) for each identified sped student, why do alternative assessments with them also? I need a connection to the Legislatures, and they need to come to the schools more to see what is really happening?!

Chris said...

Julie -- Thanks for commenting! Those sound like good questions. I agree that the people making the rules are too far removed from the people who know what's happening in the actual classrooms.