NCLB: Changing your mind

If you look up the erudite Atlantic Magazine (formerly the Atlantic Monthly) on Wikipedia, youll find it described as generally considered to have a liberal slantabout the same categorization which is awarded to the Center for American Progress, in which think-tank one Matt Miller draws a paycheck as a senior fellow. Thus, when said Miller takes keyboard-on-lap to write a piece highly critical of public school boards (and teacher unions) for crippling education in America and specifically focuses on their refusal to support national achievement targets, hes sounding less like the quintessential gentry-leftist whose Washington politicians made sure, seven years ago, to defend states rights with regard to the testing of student achievement, and a lot more like the Hamiltonian rightists who argued for a national test plan. The Miller article has appeared in the January/February issue of the Atlantic Magazine and can be seen, in part (to see the whole you must pay real money, a genuflex on the part of Atlantics editors to the capitalistic need to make sales so as to pay bills) on its Web page under the title First, Kill All the School Boards. Shakespearean readers will remember the first-kill-all-the-lawyers similarity in Henry VI. Millers argument is exactly that which the Right in Congress tried, and failed, to build into the design of No Child Left Behind back in 2001-02. NCLB has been much derided by the Left in general and educators in particular, as its Web site shows, with a section devoted to Teachers Speak Out Against NCLB. It is the Bush Administration initiative which, among other things, requires that public school students test scores actually be used to evaluate the quality of the job those schools are doing. The Right wanted to use a testing protocol which dates back to 1969-70, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and provides for the testing of carefully selected statistical samples of students in every State in Math, Reading, and a few other subjects. Using the NAEP test results, which are published in the annual National Digest of Educational Statistics but not locally in most states or school districts because, Id guess, theyre so dismal (typically in the low 200s out of a possible 500, as Ive reported frequently in this space) one can make not only state-by-state comparisons for, say, cost or class size against scores, or for score improvement over time (not much) or even for the relative achievement of various ethnic cohorts. In contrast, most states, Vermont included, have taken advantage of the Lefts successful insertion of a states rights provision in NCLB authorizing them to purchase, use, and report the results of specially-designed tests on which, miraculously, their students appear to do much better than on the NAEPs. Vermont, for example, has been through VtDRA, NECAP, and a few other custom-designed tests in search of the privately-designed miracle in which, as in Lake Woebegone, all the students will demonstrate that they are above average, and additional virtuenone of the test results can be compared with most other states because they arent administered there. Miller further argues that, as a result of the Left authorizing, and States and local districts accepting, hiding behind these designed-to-be-easier tests, American students are now falling further and further behind their internal peers in such basic skills as math and reading. If youre on the Right, you wont find Mr. Millers proposed remedy for this situation attractive. He could have but chose not toargue that the NAEP tests be used as the sole national standard, and such localized tests as, say, VtDRA or NECAP, be junked: a very simple proposal and, in fact, what the drafters of NCLB wanted in 2001, precisely because they wanted the nationwide standard, which has been in place for 38 years, but which has received Progressively (pun intended) less publicity, to be the well-known benchmark for comparisons between states and over time. Instead, he proposes typically for the Left more Federal money to go to local public education, limiting the school boards role by sharply increasing the federal governments share of education spending and leaving unspoken the quietly understood maxim about supposedly free money that there are, inevitably, controlling strings which come with it.

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