Built to Fail
March 15, 2004 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Every Child Left Behind: "The federal No Child Left Behind law is threatening to wreck public education in Minnesota and elsewhere."

"That's what it was designed to do."

Focuses on my home state Minnesota, but the point is relevant to every state in the USA. What do we do to change it?
posted by mooncrow (34 comments total)
 
Well, if you're inclined to believe that this administration is willing to do "whatever it takes" to force its agenda, this sort of thing really comes as no surprise...it's perfectly in line with Paul Krugman's theory that the administration is intentionally running up the deficit, to force a basic sort of "phase change" in the role of government. The operating theory would be to take some mechanism you don't like, and drive it off a cliff, with the assumption that you can then replace it with what you'd prefer.

Heady stuff for angry Dems, but hardly convincing to the Republican base, I'm sure. My personal take is that is not likely to be an intentional plan to ruin the current educational system, but that the folks behind NCLB would see a dramatic overhaul of the system as a valuable, legitimate outcome. That it's drastically affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids is an acceptable cost if you feel the system is already basically failing them.
posted by LairBob at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2004


What do we do to change it?

Take it to court, for starters. An excellent argument could be made against its constitutionality. The power of Congress to appropriate money is not unlimited, and is not allowed to reach the point at which it has a coercive effect on the policymaking decisions of states.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:16 AM on March 15, 2004


The power of Congress to appropriate money is not unlimited

Oh yeah?
posted by trharlan at 9:39 AM on March 15, 2004


This reads like: If your agenda is that schools are failing, and you need your administration to be re-elected, implement your programs with impossible goals.

I'm honestly not all that cynical, but I can't help but think that the republicans may be putting schools and children in jeopardy for political gain. I'm so full of hate for the current administration I can't stand it.

My only hope is that once 90% of the schools in the country need massive (NCLB-mandated) restucturing, they'll re-think it; but I'm also afraid they'll find a way to blame it on the teachers (and NOT their own program).
posted by o2b at 9:56 AM on March 15, 2004


LairBob, it's hard to think that this is unintentional. NCLB was created by a group of extremely smart people. These are people who understood the problems that are created when you do statistics on extremely small samples. They then designed a system which puts a heavy emphasis on the statistical results of extremely small samples.

There are basically two choices here, either the system was designed to fail, or nobody involved with NCLB has ever taken stats 101. Which do you think is more likely?
posted by mosch at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2004


According to the evil Republican conspiracy theory, what would they want to replace the current system with?

I'm as ready to break out my tin foil hat as anybody, but I have hard time believing this is part of the conspiracy (in this case). I tend to buy into the old "don't assume an evil motive when incompetency can be blamed" thing.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:02 AM on March 15, 2004


Oh yeah?

What's your point? South Dakota v. Dole involved the threat of a 5% cut in highway funds. This was deemed to not be substantial enough to have a coercive effect on the states.

What Rehnquist actually says is:

The spending power is of course not unlimited, but is instead subject to several general restrictions articulated in our cases. The first of these limitations is derived from the language of the Constitution itself: the exercise of the spending power must be in pursuit of "the general welfare." Second, we have required that if Congress desires to condition the States' receipt of federal funds, it "must do so unambiguously . . ., enabl[ing] the States to exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation." Third, our cases have suggested that conditions on federal grants might be illegitimate if they are unrelated "to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs." Finally, we have noted that other constitutional provisions may provide an independent bar to the conditional grant of federal funds.

No question that NCLB addresses the "general welfare." The real question is, is public education a "national project?" It's clearly a state activity. The federal government rightfully involved itself in the school desegregation battles. But this was related to the government's exercise of its power under the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the equal protection clause.

I'd be curious to see if NCLB can possibly be justified under the Fourteenth Amendment. If not, I would hazard to guess that Congress has no place regulating public education in light of the Tenth Amendment reserving to the states "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states."
posted by PrinceValium at 10:05 AM on March 15, 2004


I would also note, for the record, the irony that anti-Bush liberals like myself need to resort to conservative constitutional interpretations in order to attack the administration's ridiculously broad federal initiatives. The last four years have made me more states-rightist than I ever have been before, and that's pretty scary.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2004


Joey Michaels: According to the evil Republican conspiracy theory, what would they want to replace the current system with?

A privately-run system funded by vouchers, allowing for "freedom of choice" and federal funding going to religion-sponsored academies.

Sort of like the madrassas in Pakistan, I suppose.
posted by mooncrow at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2004


Joey:

Republicans are for small government, and privatization. Killing off public education as we know it would be forward progress on both of these issues.

As much as I dislike the Bush administration's policies, I don't believe that they're incompetent.
posted by mosch at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2004


Mosch, I can definitely see where you're coming from, but I guess my equivocation rests on two basic issues:

1) I'm reluctant to charge someone with intentionally derailing the educations of untold numbers of kids without some kind of evidence to back up that serious an accusation; and

2) In the echo chamber of 1600 Pennsyvania, it just seems very easy to make a collective decision without any intention--no conspiratorial planning, and no explicit confrontation of the downsides. You just do what you think is right.

So do I support or agree with the process at all? No. But I just don't think the current administration really operates with much "intention".
posted by LairBob at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2004


> I would also note, for the record, the irony that anti-Bush
> liberals like myself need to resort to conservative
> constitutional interpretations in order to attack the
> administration's ridiculously broad federal initiatives. The
> last four years have made me more states-rightist than I
> ever have been before, and that's pretty scary.

Snidely Whiplash evil chuckle. Our fiendish plot is working!

Seriously, lots of people believe the cry of "states' rights" is nothing but a pretext to defend indefensible things, but it was just a matter of time before these folks got a wake-up call.

In fact "states' rights" is one of those indispensable checks and balances you read about in civics class. Times change, and the day arrives when Democrats, not to mention liberals in general, suddenly need shelter from Federal policies they detest. If the states have no power to shelter them, all power having been transferred to the Federal government, where will they run?
posted by jfuller at 10:39 AM on March 15, 2004


An essential element in this debate, and others, is to understand the philosophy coming out of the CATO Institute. (Unfortunately, you won't find it on their website.)

The administration is full of CATO true believers.

What does CATO believe?

There is nothing done by the government that private enterprise can't do better. (Including ALL public education.)

There is no such thing as a lasting business monopoly. The market corrects ALL monopoly problems, unless government interferes on BEHALF of the monopoly.

And it advocates other things, too, and passionately.

This means "public education" must be destroyed. By the market, not by government fiat. But the market must be permitted entry into competition with public education to accomplish this goal.

(Ironically, the NEA might actually agree with CATO that if private schools competes with public schools, private schools will win out. Granted, not that they would want this to happen.)

I wish I had a link for the "manifesto" of CATO. It would make very interesting reading.

N.B.: Michael Powell at FCC is a big supporter.
posted by kablam at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2004


where will they run?

maybe they'll all disappear?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2004


mosch and mooncrow: Thanks for the insight. Honestly, I hadn't considered that anyone would think that eliminating public education would be a good thing. Silly me.

Man, every time I think I've stopped being naive, another thing like this comes up.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:23 AM on March 15, 2004


In the echo chamber of 1600 Pennsyvania, it just seems very easy to make a collective decision without any intention--no conspiratorial planning, and no explicit confrontation of the downsides. You just do what you think is right.

You don't have that luxury as the POTUS. You don't just do what you think is right withouth planning, conspiratorial or otherwise, and confrontation of the downsides. That's certainly not how I want my president acting. But that seems to be his pattern.
posted by archimago at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2004


NCLB is like putting a bandaid on your toe when you are bleeding from the head.
posted by archimago at 11:36 AM on March 15, 2004


What do we do to change it?
Vote in November.
And tell your slacker friends who "never vote" that this one time they need to put down the bong and pick up the ballot.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:53 AM on March 15, 2004


There is no such thing as a lasting business monopoly. The market corrects ALL monopoly problems, unless government interferes on BEHALF of the monopoly.

I would love to see how they support this belief; it goes against everything I know about market behavior. Not to say: "those guys are idiots; I know more economics than they do!", but rather: "anything that counterintuitive must be awfully interesting".
posted by mr_roboto at 11:55 AM on March 15, 2004


is not allowed to reach the point at which it has a coercive effect on the policymaking decisions of states.


I disagree. There are federal mandates for vehicle speed and drinking ages. We've discussed the states rights to change voting ages, where there is only a slim chance that a state's decision would trump the federal mandate.

The federal government has become the most intrusive aspect of every day life. You can't turn around without hitting a federal statute.

...suddenly need shelter from Federal policies they detest.

There are lots and lots of people on the left who have been fighting *for* state's rights for years. I'd be willing to bet that many "liberals"...by which I guess you mean anyone who hasn't taken the neotheocrat koolaid...many "liberals" in the south and west are pro-states rights, pro-gun, and pro-death penalty.
posted by dejah420 at 11:59 AM on March 15, 2004


Kablam, as an ardent supporter of CATO (and liberty), I'm a little hesitant to pour fuel on your fire, but these might be what you're looking for.
posted by trharlan at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2004


Kablam, Roboto: The CATO take on monopoly isn't novel. Its roots trace back at least as early as Mises. (And probably Menger, Hazlitt, and Hoppe) I think the old guy does a better job of explaining than CATO does, and it doesn't seem counter-intuitive to me. If you want a newer take, I suggest reading Dominick Armentano, who makes the case better than any CATO policy brief.
posted by trharlan at 12:34 PM on March 15, 2004


Here is an article from the Boston Phoenix that provides a slightly different perspective and some more information:

Adios, escuela.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:47 PM on March 15, 2004


NCLB is like putting a bandaid on your toe when you are bleeding from the head.

Seems more to me like putting a pickaxe in your head when you're bleeding from the toe.
posted by speicus at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2004


Let's get to the bones of this: positive discrimination measures gone mad:-

State records showed that three of the 53 students categorized as "Asian/Pacific Islander" in the Edina system had not taken the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments test, putting that subgroup below the 95 percent participation level required by nclb. (it turned out they had taken the test but the point is made)

Minority representation, no matter what - even at everyone's cost (i.e. the whole school failing the initiative).

You guys can argue politics while I describe the elephant standing in the living room.
posted by SpaceCadet at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2004


Too bad the White House staffers don't wear Adam Smith ties anymore (as they did under Reagan):

Smith was convinced that the market would, when left alone, produce the goods that the public desired. Consequently, he saw little economic role for the government. He said that governments should confine themselves to three main tasks:

1. defending the people from the ``violence and invasion of other independent societies'';
2. protecting every member of society from the ``injustice or oppression of every other member of it''; and
3. and providing ``certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain.''

Each of these jobs arises because the market fails. In the first two cases, national defense and the administration of justice, the failure is known as the free-rider problem. When a service must be provided to everybody or not at all, people misrepresent what they are willing to pay for the service. They desire to consume the service while letting others pay for it, taking a free ride. As noted in Smith's third government service, the government should also provide roads, public education, and help for the destitute, areas in which the market 'fails' to perform adequately.
From here.
posted by micropublishery at 1:00 PM on March 15, 2004


To run off on a tangent again: is the very concept of school, public, private, and religious, outdated?

We finally have the technological tools to radically improve the quality of education of students in the future. Not just another philosophical adjustment of how to teach, but a complete reorganization of the very concept of education.

The biggest possible improvement? Saving 90% of student time that is now wasted just by the very nature of the current system. 90% more time spent learning!

Teaching students learnable mental skills such as memorization techniques in the low grades--then tailoring the lowest level of education, memorization, to fit those skills. The time savings are enormous! Time that can now be spent on higher types of education--using that information quickly memorized.

Lecture done NOT by a teacher, but as a multimedia lesson *performed* by an expert in the field, presented on an individual student's computer, and *interactive* with the student for the entire lesson. The student works at his own speed, learning, evaluating and reviewing at the same time. His *physical* teacher deals with the more complex teaching skills, not just training in rote memorization, directed at the weakest student in the class.

Students progress at their own rate, motivated by machine, with a curriculum 10 times the size any school could offer. And totally transferrable if the student moves--without the student having his education dislocated.

There are tremendous possibilities here, and society and the future suffers every day that they are not implemented.
posted by kablam at 1:33 PM on March 15, 2004


What do we do to change it?

Well, very simple. This bill only effects schools which accept Federal Title I money. Choose not to accept the money. It sounds to me that if they really looked at the situation, many school districts might determine that it costs too much money to get these funds.

And as to the CATO folks, I would like to point out that they are very pro-vouchers. Their official figures are that private schools on average only cost $3113 per student per year, well below what most public schools spend. However, as nearly as I can tell this "average" includes unnaccredited schools, schools run out of a teacher's living room, homeschool support and accreditation groups, and religious schools which are subsidized by their respective churches.

This doesn't change the fact that the biggest problem with NCLB is that the only standard required is "improvement." This implies from the start that all schools are failing. I think all of us would be better served with a document that says "A child in X grade should know the following things and have the following skills."
posted by ilsa at 1:39 PM on March 15, 2004


ilsa: This doesn't change the fact that the biggest problem with NCLB is that the only standard required is "improvement." This implies from the start that all schools are failing.

I think you've hit it on the head. Not to mention that it provides a perfect scapegoat, i.e. "Why should my tax money go to fund education for poor/minority students when their grades don't even go up?"
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:53 PM on March 15, 2004


Kablam--

As a current consultant, a former teacher, and past Chief Product Designer at a successful educational software company, I very much empathize with your position, but I've got to say that I think we're still very far away from the potential you think is there.

To be precise, I don't think that "We could make it work right now, except for the problems in the system". I've taken part in programs where every obstacle has been removed--top-notch private schools, no expense spared in equipment, training, or tools development, and a gung-ho administration, and the reality of computer-aided learning still doesn't come close to your projection.

The issue is, even when it works, the technology never replaces the teacher. Over time, I've come to believe that there is a fundamentally social aspect to how we integrate even the most "factual" information. Our belief that we're grounded in an attentive, caring environment has an enormous amount to do with how well we integrate learning, and that's something that even the most sophisticated interactive software can replace. It can displace the teacher's involvement, but it can't replace it.

We've found that if a teacher normally has to spend 1-2 hours a day to teach a subject at a certain pace, then if you add in an hour or so a day of computer-based learning--even very sophisticated, group-based tools--the teacher still has to at least an hour per day, per student, to help them integrate what they're learning, and the kids' load goes up to 2-3 hours.

At that point, the kids are definitely learning more than their non-assisted peers, but there's no commensurate savings anywhere. Tech-driven learning environments can tend to take over everyone's lives--if a school, and a student body, has that to spare, then they can reap real benefits. As a panacea for the problems in current schools, though, forget it. "Motivated by machine"?
posted by LairBob at 2:57 PM on March 15, 2004


Chalk me up as someone who works in a school that's been targeted as an "underperforming school." Why? We got the best scores in our district - and well above the state average, and particularly above the average for urban schools. We had the highest scores for white students, for minority students, and the second highest scores for special education students. There is absolutely room for improvement - but we're not a failing school.

And it makes me feel ill to even describe our school that way, because our vision of education is so much more than what scores kids get on tests.

But we're labeled as "underperforming" because 13 families had their children boycott a test they saw as unfair and as taking away from more worthwhile educational endeavors. And those 13 missing kids were enough to put us below the 95% participation rate.

And the sanctions that come with being an "underperforming school" don't say why you're underperforming. It's just the blanket label, one that will likely scare off anyone trying to decide between putting their child in our school or a private school.

The provisions of NCLB are no more realistic than a principal who tells the teacher that next year, every child must get an A. The only way to achieve that are to lower standards (so an A becomes meaningless), to get rid of anyone who you suspect won't achieve the standard (the encouraged-dropout solution) or to accept 'failure' and accept the consequences.

I have a developmentally disabled child in my classroom, who in two months will be required to take the test and pass along with his classmates. He reads at barely a first grade level (I teach a combined fifth-sixth grade) - and this is neither his fault nor mine. There is nothing I can do that will have him reading at grade level in May. He will be reading better than he did in September, mind you - but according to the testing system, he will have failed. His scores, and the scores of a couple others like him, may be enough to sink our school for next year, even if we have full participation.

And if we are "underperforming" for a second year in a row, we'll have to start bleeding out part of our budget to provide for tutoring or special programs. Less resources will be able to be devoted to inside-the-school solutions, we'll have to cut corners to survive, and we'll have started the downward spiral. This sort of thing is going to start happening everywhere unless this law is scrapped or amended.
posted by Chanther at 3:08 PM on March 15, 2004


I'm of mixed feelings about this one. I'm not a supporter of this president, but the no-child-left-behind act was a good idea in theory if not practice. My local public school sucks. There are plenty of private elementary schools, but I can't afford them. We'll probably have to move to the suburbs,
where the public schools are decent, when our kid is of school age. There is supposed to be open opportunity to shift to other schools, but of course, the schools in other neighborhoods, the good schools, are full. I'm for anything
that lights a fire under the local school administration to improve the bad schools.
posted by Slagman at 4:34 PM on March 15, 2004


All: Thanks for your considered comments and opinions and perspectives. I appreciate the thought you've put into your answers.

Much more needs to be done. In answer to the concerns of some that NCLB, while harsh, is at least some sort of incentive to improve the schools, I fear it is more like this analogy:

You (the public schools) are floating down a raging river, hanging on to a log. Someone (the federal and state GOP administrations) on the bank could throw you a rope and save you, but they decide that you need to save yourself. In fact, they decide that the best solution is to have you build yourself a boat. So they start to throw you piles of boards, a box of nails, some hammers, saws, paint, etc -- and it all hits you on the head. You catch some of it, but how are you going to build a boat while floating down a raging river?
posted by mooncrow at 6:47 AM on March 16, 2004


Lecture done NOT by a teacher, but as a multimedia lesson *performed* by an expert in the field, presented on an individual student's computer, and *interactive* with the student for the entire lesson.

Heh, that's almost an exact description of what I do for a living.

Here's another perspective: A Platform for Understanding Research into the Technology’s Effectiveness and Value [pdf].
posted by piskycritter at 3:17 PM on March 16, 2004


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