Punting to (or from) proficiency

You may remember how the phrase states' rights was used as a pejorative by enthusiasts for Alexander Hamilton's model of a powerful central government to dismiss and over-rule those who preferred Thomas Jefferson's vision of a federal relationship-wherein states governed domestic issues and Washington, D.C., governed national ones.

States' rights was primarily used in the arena of educational policy, where states resisting integration-motivated forced bussing were loudly criticized in states' rights terms by those demanding it.

The ultimate outcome was less integration not more.

Urban middle-class flight, both white and black, and eventually the withdrawal of forced bussing and similar initiatives occurred. Remember Kansas City's $2 billion court-ordered spending experiment? It was, for practical purposes, a complete educational policy failure, but that's a secondary point.

The primary point is that it's an interesting background to the adoption of the same states' rights argument by the same folks who had earlier disparaged it; when a national requirement they despised but couldn't prevent-that public school spending produce measurable results toward producing proficient students-led them to a finesse strategy they used their political clout to force adoption. Example: for the testing requirement of No Child Left Behind, they got the right for each state to substitute its own preferred (read: easier) test for the more rigorous national one, if it wished. All except one.

The State of Vermont chose to purchase, deploy, and publicize the results from NECAP, a test designed to show a 2/3 proficiency rate from the same cohort of students who made only 1/3 proficient on the federal (with unpublicized results) NAEP tests.

The State of Maryland chose to purchase, deploy, and publicize the results from MSA, the Maryland State Assessment. As for Vermont, the non-NAEP test seems to put public education in a far better light than the NAEP one. A University of Maryland study in 2007 documented exactly that conclusion.

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