Where are the productive classrooms?

Gov. Peter Shumlin says the No Child Left Behind Act is leaving too many Vermont children behind.

"The law is taking too many Vermont schools that are successful and labeling them as failing," Shumlin told the Times-Argus newspaper, Feb. 27.

This entertaining piece of guv-speak goes onto my growing list of educator/politician declarations which illustrate some sort of alternate fantasy universe they occupy.

Vermont NAEP test scores in reading and math show "proficiency'' (ability to function at grade level) achievement by only about a third of all students in all schools. That's supposed to be the schools' purpose.

Now, when schools don't make the NCLB-required Annual Yearly Progress toward 100 percent proficiency (not a particularly high standard, as you can see for yourself if you look at "NAEP sample test questions" and "NECAP grade-level expectations" on the web) by 2014, it's NCLB's fault, saith the Guv, who, I'd guess, is a very bright and well-informed guy who knows better. Actually, labeling such moonbeam quotes and behaviors isn't unique; consider the following. It comes from Kevin Phillips' "Wealth and Democracy."

"In 1996, the CPI was adjusted to correct a supposed price over-statement of inflation. Barron's, the U.S. financial weekly, later mocked both the quality adjustments and the political opportunism ... saying they had helped create a palpable gap between the cost of living in the real world that we poor souls inhabit and the cost of living in the Land of Oz fashioned by statistical fancy."

In public education, the longest-running (and most expensive) Oz fantasy has been the class-size-reduction campaign, since the end of WWII, to reduce class size with the promise that it would improve student achievement. Not withstanding all the evidence to the contrary, the educator/politician Oz-speak continues to this day.

In Nashville, Vanderbilt University lauded the Tennessee Star Study some years back, and it took almost a decade for more objective researchers to define and publish the covered-over defects in the TSS, which claimed that smaller classes produce better student achievement. They didn't and don't, as more serious researchers like Eric Hanushek and Richard Vedder subsequently proved using objective statistical methods, including the depressing NAEP data (which is a large part of the reason educators despise NCLB) showing flat test scores since 1970, four decades in which class size at national and state levels has been steadily reduced.

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