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The No Child Left Behind Act
December 18, 2001 10:11 AM   Subscribe

The No Child Left Behind Act is probably the most sweeping educational reform to pass in a long time and it seems to be pretty bipartisan in its content, it passed the Senate today and Bush will be signing it into law. Holy cow, have the politicians done something right for a change?
posted by owillis (30 comments total)

Having just dissected a little bit, off the bat it seems like a pretty good thing.

The whole "centerpiece of standardized testing for children in grades 3 through 8" worries me a little. I've seen and heard a lot about large amount of testing conducted on students in Texas, and the way they do it there it's just not good for the kids.

Focus on tests, tests, tests, and pretty soon you have kids with more stress than their parents and teachers spending lessons on how to pass the tests intead of how to understand the lesson.

I like the part about giving families more options if schools continually perform poorly. More options for both schools and parents is a good thing.
posted by tomorama at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2001

No, they haven't.
posted by revbrian at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2001

Arianna Huffington doesn't think so. I think she makes some good points: "Parental choice is meaningless if parents don't actually have any schools to choose from. "
posted by acridrabbit at 11:12 AM on December 18, 2001

But isn't the problem Huffington points out a product of local school control that the federal government can't really take ahold of?
posted by owillis at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2001

Good, a way to make our educational system more test-centric.
posted by fidelity at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2001

[Focus on tests, tests, tests, and pretty soon you have kids with more stress than their parents and teachers spending lessons on how to pass the tests intead of how to understand the lesson.]

You could argue that if the tests were properly constructed then that wouldn't be a problem. Something has to be done about our schools! I'm constantly amazed at the (complete lack of) skills and knowledge that recent high school graduates are equipped with.

It's sad indeed when we have to test a prospective employee as to whether or not they can understand fractions and do double digit addition and subtraction.
posted by revbrian at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2001

The federal program isn't working! Throw more money at it!!!
posted by TacoConsumer at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2001

From the summary: -Takes away federal funds from any district that discriminates against the Boy Scouts or similar groups that bar homosexuals.

Interesting. Homophobes receiving anti-discrimination protection.
posted by boaz at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2001

There are a variety of organizations that are brought in when schools fail miserably at tests. These organizations have curriculi designed to do exactly one thing: make kids past certain standardized tests. If a teacher is caught (and I do mean caught) teaching material that is not in the curriculum, they are out.

This has nothing to do with learning, and everything to do with passing tests. While it's an interesting idea, it is not the solution that some are making it out to be.
posted by Ptrin at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2001

Problems with standardized tests and some alternatives.
posted by kittyloop at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2001

Did anyone else catch this one: if a school underperforms, it will get MORE money! Now there's a counterproductive incentive.

Also notice the blurring of the church/state separation bit. Oh, and the "can't ban the fagbashing groups" clause.

Those are the only "new" things I noticed.

You call this bipartisan?
posted by yesster at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2001

Oh, one more nice thing: the name "no child left behind." Kind of like the "left behind" book series? In other words, no child left un"saved" (i.e., converted to terroristic radical fundamentalist christianity).

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but that name just speaks volumes.
posted by yesster at 1:23 PM on December 18, 2001

I thought it was more reminiscent of a certain bad Sally Field movie. Maybe this means we need to cut down daytime HBO viewing in congressional offices.
posted by fidelity at 2:57 PM on December 18, 2001

Standards tests only mean stress if they're you're SAT's or something. The tests we're talking about here don't mean that at all, because the kid's future does not depend on how he does on them. They grade the schools, not the student. The closest any of them come to mattering to the kid is when they gave a one-time $2500 scholarship to kids who passed the MEAP. That was nice.

I know stress. What we're talking about here is not it.

I'm in favor of standardized testing in general. It has its limitations, but since I wouldn't trust a word coming out of the mouth of a public school teacher or (worse) administrator, I don't see much option.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:08 PM on December 18, 2001

Dagny, you are dead wrong. Test taking DOES stress kids out, even if they're told that it doesn't matter. Of course, since you "wouldn't trust a word coming out of the mouth of a public school teacher or (worse) administrator," I'm guessing you don't spend your days working at a public elementary school like I do (thank God!)
posted by Dinzie at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2001

Urrrgh. If any of you have been in the k-12 system recently, do you remember PALT testing? Do students care how they do on it? No.

Dinzie, while I guess you're more experienced than I am about public school students, your statement goes against everything I have read, seen, and heard. The only "achievement test" I was ever stressed over was the SAT.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2001

yesster: that Left Behind connection is spooky. Coincidence? Doesn't seem likely, not with this Prez.

It may have been Arianna Huffington (who somehow transformed from Lady MacBeth wife into a compassionate progressive, and with whom I now agree a staggeringly high percentage of the time) who last year made the excellent analogy for testing, comparing it to taking a kid's temperature. If your child is running a fever, do you take his temperature: a) Once an hour, b) Once every 20 minutes, c) Once every 5 minutes, or d) Realize that taking his temperature isn't helping him get better, and give the kid some medicine?

Testing seems to be the bulk of this "reform", and testing is a red herring and a waste of money (as Arianna writes about so eloquently in several articles at Using testing to close/reopen schools, or transport kids to other locations, appears to do nothing- it seems to just shift kids around the district without addressing the root causes of failed education. The actual monies offered for things like tutoring (which churches should NOT be doing on the public dime, btw) or alternatives tend to be paltry, not enough to do much of anything. There are a few good points to this bill, but they're outweighed by the bad.
posted by hincandenza at 5:18 PM on December 18, 2001

You call this bipartisan?
There's no voucher clause (the GOP wanted that)
It's got money for schools and teacher raises vs. for private schools (Dems wanted that)
Discrimination B.S. - the only piece I personally disagree with (obviously GOP)

So yeah, pretty bipartisan. There's a good portion of Democrats out there who don't feel that the past plans of "throw more feel good money at it" and "not too many tests, those are hard" have worked terribly.

Test taking DOES stress kids out, even if they're told that it doesn't matter
Some would say this prepares them for the real world where everything isn't happy-happy hunky-dory, and gets us closer in line to the rest of the world.
posted by owillis at 5:21 PM on December 18, 2001

You think that it's appropriate to stress out 7 year olds so they'll be prepared for the real world where everything isn't happy-happy hunky-dory?

posted by Dinzie at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2001

You say "stress out" as if it were someone having a baby. American schools are soft and way behind everyone else. It is too damn easy, made that way so the rest of society can feel good about itself when we fall farther and farther behind everyone else. Sorry, but I don't want that. If Little Jimmy has to play one less hour of Playstation 2 and read a couple chapters in his math book, I can't see the problem.
posted by owillis at 5:41 PM on December 18, 2001

Yeah! Let's get our high school suicide rate up there with the Japanese, dammit! COMPETE, you lazy little brats!!
posted by rushmc at 5:48 PM on December 18, 2001

If Little Jimmy has to play one less hour of Playstation 2 and read a couple chapters in his math book, I can't see the problem.

Big difference between that and standardized tests, Owillis.
posted by Dinzie at 5:54 PM on December 18, 2001

When I talk about too much testing, I'm thinking of the news reports and specials I've watched on TV with elementary school kids spending months preparing to take a test, administrators on stage with bull horns shouting a-la pep rally the day before the exam, etc. Don't remember exactly which report it was, but it was aired during GW's campaign in criticism of all the talk he had about his education reform in Texas.

Testing is a good thing. But you can have too much of a good thing.
posted by tomorama at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2001

kittyloop: although I agree standardised tests aren't that great, I have issues with any group (eg: who suggests that portfolio-based assesment is a good idea. No it isn't. It's a huge pain in the arse, especially for students who know their stuff, but who have better things to do than prepare fancy portfolios (which tend to be given marks based on presentation, half the time).
posted by eoz at 6:38 PM on December 18, 2001

Anyone who isn't a recent graduate should read Another Planet - the author's experience attending a suburban high school convinced her that most of the solutions people talk about weren't going to change a thing.

As a relatively recent graduate, I strongly agreed with her comments about parents being a key part of the problem - threats to sue teachers who don't give As are more common than you'd think and too many parents either don't care what their child does or aren't willing to do anything about it. This combined with the self-esteem movement to produce courses which teach little and make it possible for someone to have a 4.0 GPA without being able to read or write at what used to be 8th grade level.

Personally, I'm in favor of standardized tests only if they are well-designed (very, very, very rare) and hard enough to be meaningful - too many are being "re-leveled" (this is how you say "dumbed down" if you have an educational degree) so that the top x% will all have the same score, which makes the moderately and extremely bright students appear equal on paper.

The "standards cause kids stress" argument is misguided. I went to three suburban high schools and in each case the students who were most stressed were the ones who were trying to compensate for years of not trying to learn; the students who hadn't been slacking for the previous decade all did about as well as they expected (this was independent of the wildly-varying levels of affluence - someone who tries can get a good education just about anywhere). It was rare for the slackers to to actually start trying to do well, which made it hard to work up much sympathy for them. Frankly, the stress the tests caused them was a good thing - at some point you have to learn that you can't whine your way out of every bad score; anyone who thinks that adults aren't frequently judged on imperfect, overly-simplified metrics hasn't worked at a large company.

That said, there is a legitimate part of that argument, but it's not the sort of thing which can or should be tackled by the schools. Too many people act as if all students had equal mental abilities and should follow the same career path, which leads to students being under heavy pressure from parents whose expectations vary wildly from their child's abilities. Some kids are expected to get into a top university and land a plush white-collar job when they'd really be better off either trying for a less ambitious college career or going to a trade/vocational school instead. This can be darkly amusing when you realize that the kid who's good with his hands but just doesn't like academic courses could bill $50/hr as a skilled craftsman instead of the smaller amount he'll make as a marginal fit in a white-collar field.

This isn't the fault of the schools any more than it would be if everyone expected 5' kids to make it into the NBA. Here, as in so many areas, there's no convenient scapegoat - society is reaping the consequences of repeated mistakes. A staggering percentage of the parents making a hobby out of blaming teachers, politicians, testing, etc. have done at least as much damage.
posted by adamsc at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2001

I'm a bit surprised that nobody has mentioned Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the many other, erm, countries where testing already means everything to students' progress. Not being a product of any of these systems, I certainly don't intend to make myself out to be some kind of expert, but here's what generally seems to be true, at least in Japan:

- Kids are very literate and their math skills are, as is well known these days, among the best in the world, thanks in large part to constant test prep.
- Many kids spend their after school hours at cram schools, where they study additional material, not just to pass tests at school, but to pass tests to get into certain schools. Depending on the school the parents want to send their child to, this testing can start as early as preschool.
- By the end of high-school, the typical Japanese student has taken six years of English, and can exhibit an understanding of basic grammar, but that's about it. They couldn't chat with you about the weather, and they likely haven't read even one English-language novel. But they do know just enough to pass the tests.
- Once they have passed the test to get into the university of their choice, it is very hard to not graduate. For most, college is just a four-year party with end-of-term tests. Graduating from a prestigious university like Waseda or Keio (both private) says far more about how hard they studied in high school than about what they learned in college.

In terms of basic reading, writing, and math skills, I think there is a lot to be said in favor of frequent testing. But the drawback is clearly that learning is seen as a punishment of sorts, even among adults, and that is unfortunate.
posted by Bixby23 at 8:49 PM on December 18, 2001

To add to the Japan thing, some of it is mindset. The tests in Japan are rarely designed to test a students ability to use the skills being tested, but rather to test their knowledge of trivia and obscuria (if that's a word?) and odd spellings (a good friend runs one of the aforementioned prep schools).

The educational reform movement here wants to move away from testing towards more hands-on sorts of things.

In addition, the English they learn in high school is often patently wrong, resulting in a nation of people who barely speak English like that found at the Samsung site.
posted by chiheisen at 9:51 PM on December 18, 2001

I disagree with you about portfolio assessment, eoz. I've seen it done horribly and I've seen it done right. When it's done right it's more powerful than any test can ever be.

Let me tell you the basic scenario with my students. They have to select the pieces of work that show them at their best, as well as a couple that show them at their worst. They have to write essays on where they have improved and not improved. Then we sit them down, with their parents and all three teachers (math, science, humanities), and make them give an oral presentation about their learning (talk about stress). Then the kids go away and we teachers talk to the parents for a while.

I can, of course, imagine following this model and having it be a complete waste of time, with only kids who are great bullshit artists doing well (but I do have a rather abnormally large BS detector). As always, the implementation is key.

We also do standardized tests - but I tell you, I learn more about what my students have and haven't learned in those hour-long portfolio sessions than I do from hours of staring at the test scores. The portfolios are time-intensive - at an hour a kid, and 64 kids, that's a lot of time. And it can be challenging to get the parents to show up (this is an urban district) - to the point that we've even sometimes driven the to kids' houses and done the conferences there.

Now, I'm not against standardized tests, per se. My main concern is that they are used for things that they were never statistically designed to measure - particularly change over time. But I'll live.

What gets me is the sheer number of standardized tests we have to use. We give the Stanford, the MEAP, the MCAS, as well as a couple of tests mandated by the district. Some of these tests are quite long (the MCAS is longer than the bar exam), and it starts to eat away at one's curriculum a bit. I'd be happier if they'd consolidate things. (But the multiplicity of tests also has the happy effect of never tempting us to 'teach to the test' - after all, which test would we teach to?)

And the fact that everyone is shouting about 'standards' has resulted in one set of standards from the district, one from the state, and one from the feds - none of which agree with one another. And some of them are just plain stupid, like the standards which told me I should be teaching a unit on genetics without ever mentioning DNA.

All the standards in the world won't help if a teacher isn't good enough (or doesn't know enough about the subject area) to make the standards work in his or her own classroom. It comes, as always, down to good teaching. And as long as the quality of the teaching profession is mediocre, none of the tests or portfolios in the world will do a bit of good.
posted by Chanther at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2001

Dagny, you are dead wrong. Test taking DOES stress kids out, even if they're told that it doesn't matter.

They're not TOLD that, they just KNOW it. Kids are smart. I can't remember a single person stressing over the MEAP test.

Of course, since you "wouldn't trust a word coming out of the mouth of a public school teacher or (worse) administrator," I'm guessing you don't spend your days working at a public elementary school like I do (thank God!)

I base my facts on my own experience as a student, and those of my friends. I was lucky that the worst that happened to me in a public elementary school was probably getting bored out of my mind. I'm sure I could think of other minor disgraces... but I'm lucky enough not to, say, have a handicap... some of your esteemed colleagues at one very yuppified suburban school district decided at one point that difficulty reading meant retarded -- when, in my friend's case, difficulty reading was just because he was legally blind. He's actually of above average intelligence. Talk about stress and ruining lives, you're doing it with your own stupidity.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:48 PM on December 19, 2001

Chanther: Here in west Australia, we seem to have a new assessment system every 5 years (I exaggerate a little - but not much), and the latest is portfolio-based. Fortunately (I think) for me, I finish highschool at the end of next year, before its fully implemented, but last year I had to do portfolios for two classes.

The first was awful. We had to include planning, notes, drafts and the 'final products' for everything we did. I always got great scores for the final product, but fairly mediocre marks for the other three sections, because I don't work in terms of the sections we had to include.
I thought that my final assignments showed that I was a capable student, but instead I lost a lot of marks for not following the formula. (I still got a good mark overall thanks to the end of year exam, but a lot of others in my class who knew more about the subject than I did got low-C type grades, because after the first low mark for what should have gotten an A, they just gave up.)

Which I think is one of the major problems with portfolios - it's a bit hard for a teacher to justify a mark based on 'gut feeling', so there's a tendency to use formulae which are as meaningless as the standardised tests.

I guess it just depends on the teacher, like you say.

(BTW: The second portfolio was great, since we only had to hand in the final essays.)
posted by eoz at 10:19 PM on December 19, 2001

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