Friday, January 11, 2008

We're Not the Only Ones

This isn't corrections sentencing, but a voice from my school board past sent me this Atlantic piece advocating abolition of school boards. It's a story of tradition and sunk costs incurred for decades and decades stunting change and better performance in the face of calls for reform and declining success compared to other nations. Wait, maybe this is about corrections sentencing. And this part, the part about the data game-playing, this part sounds like we've had some cross-breeding going on:

“We’re two decades into the standards movement in this country, and standards are still different by classroom, by school, by district, and by state,” says Tom Vander Ark , who headed the education program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from 1999 through 2006. “Most teachers in America still pretty much teach whatever they want.”

If you thought President Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation was fixing these problems, think again. True, NCLB requires states to establish standards in core subjects and to test children in grades 3–8 annually, with the aim of making all students “proficient” by 2014. But by leaving standards and definitions of “proficiency” to state discretion, it has actually made matters worse. The Proficiency Illusion, a report released in October by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, details how. “‘Proficiency’ varies wildly from state to state, with ‘passing scores’ ranging from the 6th percentile to the 77th,” the researchers found:

Congress erred big-time when NCLB assigned each state to set its own standards and devise and score its own tests … this study underscores the folly of a big modern nation, worried about its global competitiveness, nodding with approval as Wisconsin sets its eighth-grade reading passing level at the 14th percentile while South Carolina sets its at the 71st percentile.

The lack of uniform evaluation creates a “tremendous risk of delusion about how well children are actually doing,” says Chris Cerf, the deputy chancellor of schools in New York City . That delusion makes it far more difficult to enact reforms—and even to know where reforms are needed. “Schools may get an award from their state for high performance, and under federal guidelines they may be targeted for closure for low performance,” Vander Ark says. This happens in California , he told me, all the time.

CA? How surprising. In any case, it's always nice to know that others are just as screwed up as you. Gets the weekend off to a good start. Enjoy it.

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