Black Wednesday (Dressing for NCLB)

Because education is largely a government function, there seems to be little\nhope of ever disentangling politics and education.


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Today I'll wear black to\nschool. I've worn black to school almost every Wednesday since November 3, 2004.\nWhy that date? On November 2nd of that year I spent 13 hours helping people cast\ntheir ballots for President in a polling place in Virginia. I went home, had a\nshort but sound night of sleep, and woke the next morning to discover that\nGeorge W. Bush was still President. I wore black to work that day, and I've worn\nblack almost every Wednesday since - 168 out of the last 171 Wednesdays. The\nexceptions? The day after Democrat Tim Kaine won the governor's race in Virginia\nI wore more festive colors to work. (Since I work in West Virginia, half my\nco-workers never fully understood why.) I also dressed quite colorfully on the\nWednesday after the most recent midterm election - the one where Democrats won\nback Congress.

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There was also a day earlier this year when we had Monday off and I just lost\ntrack of what day of the week it was. My co-workers thought that was\nfunny...

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I know that President Bush has his fan club. And I know that there are plenty\nof people who dislike him for reasons other than education policy. But in my\nmind, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the low points of Bush\nPresidency.

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I have several specific complaints about NCLB.

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  • I don't like the way it has reduced the scope of curriculum. I think it has\nde-emphasized the arts, for example, in favor of the most basic, pared down\ncore.
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  • I don't like the focus it brings on mediocrity. The goal of education under\nNCLB is to move students who are barely failing on high stakes tests to the\nplace where they are barely passing on high stakes tests. There is no reward for\nexcellence. getting by is the goal.
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  • I don't like the unrealistic and punitive nature of the accountability\nprovisions. The eventual goal of NCLB is 100% grade level mastery. Every fifth\ngrader, for example, should function at the fifth grade level (unless they have\nsome profound disability). Schools that don't comply, don't meet this standard,\nare punished. The problem is that so many of the factors related to a student's\nperformance fall outside the school's reach. Basic issues of poverty and social\nfabric impact a school's ability to achieve these goals; but the school has\nlittle power to address them. The simple truth is that there will always be at\nleast one or two kids who don't make the grade no matter what teachers do. And\neventually NCLB's accountability provisions will result in almost every public\nschool being deemed a failure. It is a standard no other modern nation strives\nto achieve. It is unrealistic.
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  • I think the law is underfunded. The requirements of NCLB at onerous in terms\nof both time and money.
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You don't have to be a complete cynic to think that maybe, just maybe, NCLB's\naccountability provisions are a poison pill in the law. The intention could be\nto make public schools look bad – worse than they are – to justify the\nprivatization of education through the use of vouchers. And right there in\nBush's 2009 budget, what do we have? Proposed funding for a voucher program.

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NCLB has failed. The task now is to replace it with a law with broader\nvision, a law more supportive of public education. Hopefully Congress will be\nwise enough to call for far more input from the educational community than they\ndid in 2002.

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Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

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