from - Let's Win One for the Gipper

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Monday, October 31, 2005

By William L. Bainbridge
Commentaries - Reports

Let's Win One for the Gipper

Recent evidence gives little hope that increased federal control of education through the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law is going to improve student performance in school. The first respected and tangible testing numbers available since the implementation of NCLB, enacted by " DC-knows-best" politicians of both major parties, renders nothing for supporters to claim as a victory. Even some NCLB proponents expressed disappointment.

Those testing numbers come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP compares achievement data between states and various student demographic groups. NAEP results documented in two recent reports, The Nation's Report Cardô Reading 2005 and The Nation's Report Cardô Mathematics 2005, indicate that:
  • Math performance did not increase at a faster rate than in the previous decade;
  • Reading performance declined significantly at grade 8, the critical grade when many students are dropping out of school, and scores were about the same for grade 4 as in 2002;
  • Only one-half of the students read study passages fluently. Scores for many students suggest they are still struggling with basic skills.
  • While NCLB had a stated objective to give "attention on the civil right of every young person to have a good education" by "closing the achievement gap" of higher scores for Asian and European American than for African and Hispanic American students, there was only modest progress even claimed. Any gains in this critical area are more than offset by the rapidly accelerating dropout rate in urban school systems. The real gap remains as wide as it was in the early 1990's.
  • Reading performance for African and Hispanic American students has been flat since 2000.
  • Math performance gains for African and Hispanic American students have not continued to increase at the previous rate.
Moreover, the nation's parents seem to have different expectations than policy and lawmakers regarding what it means to hold school systems accountable for student success. The public continues to support the concept of "accountability measures" at face value. However, parents have difficulty understanding the constantly changing rhetoric surrounding the NCLB law. More and more parents and state legislators are beginning to grasp how punitive NCLB can be for their local schools. The Public Agenda Foundation, for example notes that the closer parents and citizens get to NCLB, the more concerned and wary they become of this "one-size-fits-all" accountability measure.

Evidence of rapidly declining parental support for the law can be found in a recent report of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning organization. The study reports on the results of an ongoing research project conducted to discover what parents and other community members think "education accountability" means. When asked questions regarding to whom and for what school leaders should be held "accountable," respondents:
  • Seemed to believe that in addition to schools, parents, community members, and students should be held accountable for student success;
  • Accepted standardized tests, as a means of measuring student progress, but believed that other means should also be included.
  • Showed some resistance (especially in rural areas) to imposed standards;
  • Had a lack of faith in the quality of statewide tests;
  • Said that despite the rhetoric focused on ensuring the success of all students, teachers do not consider themselves "equally accountable" for the education of all children. This was especially true in responses from Spanish-speaking community members.
We now have evidence from the government itself that the "drill and kill curriculum" associated with high-stakes testing has not improved pubic education. The fact is that NAEP math scores were on the rise and reading scores were flat before NCLB. After the law, math scores are up slightly and reading scores are flat, netting virtually no progress.

It's time for the government at all levels to abandon the failed "test-and-punish" quick fix, get on with the hard work of identifying the causes of student achievement problems, and then address them effectively. If the federal government should have any role in education, which is doubtful, it might be to fund research and development of more effective teaching strategies and learning systems that better meet the goal of improved academic achievement for all children.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president on a pledge that if elected, he would abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Perhaps it is time to "Win one for the Gipper" by finishing this important job.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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