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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 10/ 1/2010

Why won't Congress admit NCLB failed?

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Monty Neill, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a non-profit organization that works to end the flaws and misuse of standardized testing.

By Monty Neill
The 2010 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on U.S. schools reminds us that Americans do not believe that the federal No Child Left law helps improve education. The 2008 Kappa survey found that four out of five people think classroom-based evidence of student learning, such as grades, teacher observations, or samples of student work (the most popular), provides a more accurate picture of student work than do student test scores.

The United States is virtually alone among nations in testing in so many grades. Top-ranked Finland barely tests at all, while Singapore tests in a few grades. That’s the range among nations with better results than the U.S. on international exams, graduation rates, and increasingly college entry and completion.

Research shows that NCLB causes curriculum narrowing, intense teaching to the test, and worsening school climate. The rate of progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has declined since the law was implemented, while it’s clear now that scores on state tests are greatly inflated. Testing even more with slightly different exams, which the federally-funded state testing consortia aim to do, is not a solution.

But the real issue is Congress’ reluctance to rethink its assumptions.

Why is Congress so unwilling to recognize the research and public opinion, and overhaul the most basic fact of NCLB: Its reliance on standardized tests to judge and control schools, and if President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have their way, teachers as well?

Why won’t Congress recognize that high-stakes testing has failed, and move in new directions?

Certainly not all members of Congress think alike, but here are some key factors behind the unwillingness to change:

Most important, the de facto alliance among corporate groups such as the Business Roundtable, a growing list of high-tech and hedge-fund billionaires, a few large foundations (Gates, Broad and Walton among them), Duncan's Education Department, and major national media has spent tens of millions of dollars and used extensive networks to promote their ideas.

They have created the new status quo of test-based accountability and increasing privatization, which they promote as “reform” even though it doesn’t work.

Second, too many students are not getting a good enough education, and these students are overwhelmingly poor, of color, speak English as a second language, or have a disability. The victims of the policies that produced this situation demand change.

The choice, however, was never between do nothing or focus on high-stakes testing. Better options have always existed. But these have been under-financed, not supported by the most visible and wealthy sectors in society. They also are more complex, not simplistic like tests, making them harder to sell with sound bites – as if the mind and learning were simple!

Testing is a cheap “fix.” Genuinely improving schools and teaching, and overcoming the poverty and segregation that are still the most significant factors in student outcomes, are expensive, complex and politically difficult. Too many members of Congress – and their state counterparts - are willing to accept the cheap way out, even if it is no solution at all.

If you believe NCLB’s approach is not working, you are in good company. Voters are beginning to reject educational ‘deform,’ the defeat in the D.C. Democratic primary of Mayor Adrian Fenty, who installed Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, being the most visible. Your voice is essential to making Congress respect the will of the people, not the will of the elites promoting the failed policies of high-stakes testing.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 1, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  arne duncan, congress, congress nclb, fairtest, finland education, finland schools, gallup poll, nclb, no child left behind, singapore education, singapore schools  
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Comments

Why does Congress have a deaf ear on Bush and Duncan-style reformism? Follow the money and you'll find the truth. The Department of Education sloshes around a huge amount of money. Where does it go? To classrooms? Very little of it can be traced to direct teacher-student interaction. Most of it ends up in the pockets of corporations that profit from the education industry - testing companies, consultants, lawyers, and the whole crowd of hangers on that profit from telling schools what to do without doing anything themselves. Same for the huge pot of money sloshed around by the Gates crowd of philanthropic social engineers. The Department of Education is a money machine that's merely another way for Congress to reward lobbyists and contributors. The beneficiaries of education reform are not students, it is the edupreneurs. Messianic reformism - the placing of power into the hands of a single, golden, unaccountable functionary such as Michelle Rhee - is obviously part of the scheme to ensure the public is shut out of decisions about how tax revenues are funneled by Congressional largess to business. How much of the RTTT money Rhee was awarded will go directly to teacher-student activity. I'll betcha, not much. But, of course, we won't know for sure because the Post Company, which is one of the major recipients of Federal education money, won't report on itself and its cronies.

Posted by: korm | October 1, 2010 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Congress' refusal to address the failures of NCLB, let alone acknowledge them, is a clear indication of who is in charge of American education. Look at how quickly the Reading First scandal fell off the radar. Teachers are still forced to comply with lock-step curricular mandates and professional development for educators has been reduced to either getting the "bubble" kids to score higher to meet AYP, or how to maintain fidelity to a reading program (as in no straying from the script, regardless of who you are teaching).

Posted by: PGutierrez1 | October 1, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I have 4 students in school, and I firmly agree that NCLB was not successful. The concept was good, but like most government programs, it went off course. RttT will fail the same way. Of my 4 that are in school, I have one who though he is "incredibly smart" (teachers assessment not mine)and in advanced classes, he totally flakes out on tests. Testing is not the silver bullet, it is ONE of MANY tools that can and should be used to evaluate student, teacher and school progress.

Posted by: welangIII | October 1, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

BRAVO! So refreshing to hear someone point out in print, what most teachers already know:

"Research shows that NCLB causes curriculum narrowing, intense teaching to the test, and worsening school climate."

"They have created the new status quo of test-based accountability and increasing privatization, which they promote as “reform” even though it doesn’t work."

THe folks who make decisions have been promoted into their positions by proving to be savvy within this new environment, it makes sense that they would be the last to challenge or undermine the new "reform-culture" that they have thrived within....

Posted by: teacher13 | October 1, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

BRAVO! So refreshing to hear someone point out in print, what most teachers already know:

"Research shows that NCLB causes curriculum narrowing, intense teaching to the test, and worsening school climate."

"They have created the new status quo of test-based accountability and increasing privatization, which they promote as “reform” even though it doesn’t work."

THe folks who make decisions have been promoted into their positions by proving to be savvy within this new environment, it makes sense that they would be the last to challenge or undermine the new "reform-culture" that they have thrived within....

Posted by: teacher13 | October 1, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

There is BIG BUCKS being made by reformers who are pushing NCLB.

If Obama, Congress, Rhee and Duncan admit is is failing, the cash would soon dry up and these folks will have to come up with another scheme to profit off the desire of parents to ensure an education that will prepare them for life.

But then an educated society would not fall for this NCLB bull and we can't have that.

Posted by: guylady201001 | October 1, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad there are people like Monty Neill and Valerie Strauss, always telling people the truth.

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 1, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Was that Monty Neill who wrote this propaganda piece or Alfie Kohn? They're pretty difficult to tell apart.

Monty, you might a have a smidgen more credibility if it weren't for your phony-baloney web page where you list over 800 US schools of higher learning (aka colleges and universities) that no longer require the SATs for admission. Readers, if you have a few minutes sometime go to Monty's fairytale page and check out his list. At last count there were over 40 ITT Techs not to mention an infinite supply of businesses disguising themselves as colleges while garnering tuition money from many "students" who should have never gone to college in the first place.

And for the record, many of these schools (?) don't require SATs because the caliber of kid who winds up applying to them performed terribly in high school and knew they would have bombed on these challenging exams. Most kids who apply to your notorious list should never have gone to college. And while you list these fabulous 800 add to the list the number of kids that graduate. I'll bet that would make for some real interesting reading.

Also for the record Monty, the tests emanating from NCLB didn't appear out of the blue. No, there was a reason for the tests; too many social promotions regardless of the student's level of motivation or effort, and too many US kids "graduating" from high school reading at a second or third grade level. That's why I prefaced my remark with propaganda piece. This is nothing but chocolate colored lies to advance a convoluted set of ideas, many of which are distorted while the rest are simply incorrect.

While you're at it Monty, where does most of the money come from for your non-profit organization? Does the NEA or any teacher affiliated group contribute to your coffers? That too would also provide folks with some rather interesting reading. And your relationship with the group Citizens for Public Schools? Tell your readers about that while you're at it.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 1, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

This is a great contribution from Monty Neill. Thanks, Valerie. You done it agin, gal!

(This blog has become a much-needed sanity watering-hole!)


Posted by: NYCee | October 2, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

phoss1
Your opinions seem extreme. Follow the facts and the money funneled to testing conglomerates and lobbyists without any worthwhile contribution to excellence in public education. Why are certain hedge fund managers and Wall Street profiteers behind the charter school scam? With billions spent on corporate testing and test prep, has NCLB reduced the dropout rate? Do you think the corporate test-based profit-driven Race to the Top scheme will result in lower dropout rates and education excellence?

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | October 2, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

My opinions are not extreme, they're facts.

Why do teachers wonder about being shut out of the ed reform dialogue? It should be no mystery if they stop and think about it. They're the ones responsible for the social promotions and graduating everyone regardless of performance. The education status quo had to be altered because it was so awful. And why should politicians or the business community seek the opinions of those who created the problems? That would be somewhat counter productive.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 2, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

phoss in just proving his/her ignorance. Teachers do not choose the curriculum, materals, methodology or promotion criteria. They have to follow all of these which are dictated by administrators and incompetent fools like Joel Klein (who never taught) and Michelle Rhee (who failed as a teacher). The reason for failure is the home more than anything else.

Posted by: Skibby3 | October 3, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Phoss:
How do you figure that teachers are responsible for social promotions and graduation rates? Do you have any idea what goes on in schools? In my state, a district may not retain a student in grades K-8 without parent permission. We also, despite claims to the contrary, are powerless to prevent a student's grade or credit from being changed. Two years after the fact, I discovered that a couple of my former students had received GATE credit for the year they'd spent in my class, despite the fact that their curriculum had not been differentiated in any way. I only found out that the records had been changed when they enrolled in a class I taught that required them to submit transcripts. Suffice it to say, the administrator who allowed the change did not consult me.

Test scores are not a reflection of the quality of education offered. There are schools in my district whose students consistently exceed what the state has deemed "adequate," and some that fall far below the mark. If the faculty at the "good" schools switched places with the faculty of the "bad" ones, the test scores wouldn't change in any statistically significant way. Test scores almost invariably reflect socioeconomic status because the children of more affluent parents are much more likely to have been raised in a print-rich environment and have the experiences that contribute most directly to literacy. Most of my students grew up (and continue to live) in homes with ZERO books. They were not read to every night, as my children were. Their parents are, in many cases, not highly literate in their own language, much less English. These are kids who didn't have the advantages those of us who can read and post to the WaPo website had and I've worked with them the entire 15+ years I've been teaching. It's always been enough of a personal reward for me to KNOW that my students need caring teachers who understand WHY they are reading several grade levels behind. It's never bothered me excessively that the general public doesn't. But now, instead of being allowed to do my job (which, based on student feedback, I do fairly well) in relative peace, I've got a bunch of chuckleheads who *think* they have a clue insisting that I suck as a teacher because my students don't read well enough to shine on a standardized test.

Posted by: Coachmere | October 3, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Skibby,

The most significant reason for poor/minority students IS the home, agreed. Too many "parents" from these homes don't have the wherewithal to manage their own lives never mind being entrusted to appropriately raise a child. This does not excuse schools or their bureaucracies from operating effectively.

Coach,

The tests are far from terrific but they are the most manageable, affordable, and expedient form of assessments available to schools. Again, they're not great but schools have to have some form of an impartial third party method of trying to figure out whether students have learned anything.

I taught for 34 years in Massachusetts public schools and I retained kids during that time (nothing to be proud of). It's not easy and you have to convince parents it's the best avenue for their child but it is still doable. Of course many will argue it's the worst thing a teacher can do to a student but I always thought it would be worse to send them out into the world or the next grade under the false pretense they were ready for it.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 3, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Skibby,

The most significant reason for poor/minority students IS the home, agreed. Too many "parents" from these homes don't have the wherewithal to manage their own lives never mind being entrusted to appropriately raise a child. This does not excuse schools or their bureaucracies from operating effectively.

Coach,

The tests are far from terrific but they are the most manageable, affordable, and expedient form of assessments available to schools. Again, they're not great but schools have to have some form of an impartial third party method of trying to figure out whether students have learned anything.

I taught for 34 years in Massachusetts public schools and I retained kids during that time (nothing to be proud of). It's not easy and you have to convince parents it's the best avenue for their child but it is still doable. Of course many will argue it's the worst thing a teacher can do to a student but I always thought it would be worse to send them out into the world or the next grade under the false pretense they were ready for it.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 3, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

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