Wednesday, March 30, 2005

No Child Left Untested, No Public School Left Standing

Hello! For those who don’t know me, my name is Kathy and I was Amber’s roommate freshman and sophomore years of college at good ol’ CMC. We are not sure how we got to be roommates, but we usually got along desptie dramatically different life philosophies. After college, I served in the Peace Corps for two years and I am now in a graduate Special Education program. I asked Amber is I could guest blog because I’m interested in getting a more Libertarian and/or Republican perspective about some of the issues I am concerned about. Of course, old fashioned Liberals (and anyone who doesn’t fit into a convenient label) are welcome to comment as well!

Today I would like to rant about the No Child Left Behind Act Before I began teaching, I thought that NCLB was a well-intentioned, but poorly thought out and poorly funded bill. The more I get into my student teaching, however, the more I agree with the conspiracy theorists who believe that it’s purpose is to destroy the public schools. Here are just a few of the problems with it:

Under NCLB, every teacher within a certain number of years willhave to be “Highly Qualified” in his or her subject. This sounds like a good idea, as some teachers end up teaching subjects that they are quite unqualified to teach. But then there are teachers such as my current Cooperating Teacher (the teacher who is mentoring me with my student teaching), who teaches Special Ed Algebra and Geometry. She is Highly Qualified in Special Education, is a fantastic math teacher, and the students love her. She is not, however, “highly qualified” to teach Math and therefore would not be allowed to teach Math without a Team Teacher under NCLB unless she takes more classes and/or exams. When I asked her if she was worried about this, her response was, “Where are they going to find another Special Ed Math Teacher?” This is a good point. The schools can scarcely find Special Ed teachers or Math teachers individually, let alone somebody qualified in both fields. If schools are asked to get rid of their teachers who are not “highly qualified”, who are they going to hire in their place? Maybe they can find enough English and History teachers, but what about Special Education, Math, Science, and Foreign Language? Are “highly qualified” professionals suddenly going to start coming out of the woodwork because they heard that the schools are hiring? Probably, the schools will do everything they can to keep the experienced teachers that they have, HQ or not. I certainly hope they wouldn’t fire an experienced teacher and replace him or her with an inexperienced person who passed a test.

The second, more problematic aspect of NCLB is that the state can take over a school that does not meet “Annual Yearly Progress” (AYP) in even one subgroup. Under NCLB, all students, including Special Ed and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) are expected to meet the same high standards as every other student. (Only the lowest-functioning SPED students and first-year ESOL students are exempt.) This sounds good, especially since, in the past, people have expected practically nothing from these capable students and they have suffered as a result. But the law does not stop there. If a large percentage of students in a school qualify for Special Ed or ESOL, they will be categorized as a “sub-group” of the school. IF EVEN ONE SUBGROUP FAILS TO MEET AYP, THE ENTIRE SCHOOL FAILS! So, by my understanding of the law, let’s say that an inner-city school with limited resources fails to meet AYP their first year. The school has 15% ESOL students, 15% Special Ed students, and 70% General Ed students. Everyone in the school pulls together and works their ass off to improve their standardized test scores. After two years, most of the students are kicking ass. The General ed students show rapid improvement and the ESOL students are all learning English and doing almost as well. 85% of the school easily meets AYP. But the Special Ed students, while they also show improvements, do not meet the same AYP standards set for everyone else. This is probably because this group of students typically does very poorly at standardized tests. Many of them know the material but simply cannot concentrate through an entire three-hour test and, halfway through, they begin randomly marking the bubble sheet so the painful test will be over. Because one subgroup didn’t meet AYP, the entire school is labeled as a failing school. Now, the government can take over the school, force all staff and teachers to reapply for their jobs, and allow students to take their federal funds to a private facility for extra help. Of course, private programs can pick and choose whichever students they want while the public schools have to include everyone. So the private facilities end up with higher test scores. Then, everyone points to the conclusive evidence that private schools are more effective than public schools.

People love to talk about high expectations, but these are impossible expectations! I'd love to see George Bush come and help the Special Education High School Geometry students ace their standardized tests. Don't get me wrong, the students are learning Geometry and it is impressive when you consider the learning disabilities that they have to work through. But many will still not be able to pass the test, either because they freeze up during long exams or they have trouble dealing with multiple concepts at once. Maybe Laura Bush could do a better job, and crack down on the gang problems while she's at it. But Laura Bush isn't “highly qualified”! So they'll just have to stay in White House and lament the failure of public education . . .
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