Monday, January 10, 2005

False Pretenses

As a firm supporter of education reform, and especially coming from a large public high school, I have a very personal bone to pick with No Child Left Behind. From the very beginning it was touted as an excellent system which had worked wonders for areas of Texas. It was adopted nation-wide, expecting such improvements as were induced in Texas. It later came out that the results were found to be questionable in some cases, downright lies in others. Thus it was with great confusion that even after the program was revealed as a fraud, no great commotion was made to remove schools and students out from under its shadow. But since the program started under false pretenses, why stop there?

In a recent scandal that caught a number of front pages, it was recently discovered that the dept. of Education secretly paid conservative journalist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote No Child Left Behind. When confronted, Strom Thurmon protege Williams made no debate about the ethical misconduct. He openly admitted that his motives had been questionable -- actually, I found his honesty quite refreshing.

And yet through all this, there is little or no talk about disbanding the program. Perhaps lawmakers and policy-setters feel that the program itself is sound, and could still prove beneficial. I beg to differ. It puts unnecessary stress on standardized testing, giving teachers no choice but to teach to a test, abandoning all pretensions of education. Also, based upon the insistence that all 'groups' within a school pass stringent English-based tests, it is difficult for crowded public schools to pass. With larger non-English speaking and special education programs, public schools get the short straw, for if even one such category fails to show sufficient improvement, the school is labeled a 'failing school' and is threatened with drastic staff changes or funding cuts.

It seems somehow ironic to me that the schools which most need assistance have the greatest number of obstacles thrown in their paths. Short of scrapping a faulty, biased program promoted by lies and deceit, we should at least revise the No Child Left Behind policy to stop kicking schools while they're down.

2 Comments:

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Jesse- I'm glad you posted about this (except for the fact that you beat me to the punch *grin*). In any case, this issue strikes very close to home for me. While I did not attend my local high school, my younger sister is a senior there now. According to school provided statistics touted repeatedly by the administration as a testament to the school's diversity, approximately 85 different languages are spoken by the student body at the school.

Thus, her school has a very large group of non-English speaking students who are enrolled in the ESOL program. Many of these students are extremely recent immigrants with little to no previous education in English. Accordingly, this group of students was unable to pass the English portion of the AYP test given to sophomore students last year. If the results are repeated this year-- regardless of the otherwise good performance of the rest of the student body-- the school will lose its accredidation. This would be a truly disastrous scenario: current juniors at the school would be applying to college with high school transcripts that must be marked as coming from an unaccredited insstitution (surely not something that plays well in admissions offices), and more importantly, the school's administration and staff can all be fired and replaced. Moreover, any school designated as failing must let its students choose to go to other schools. That means severe overcrowding problems for the surrounding area high schools (including my former school).

I expounded at length on this problem because I think it illustrates very well the absurdity of the act. It's all well and good to call something "No Child Left Behind," but unfortunately the actual act does not live up to its title at all. It seems hardly fair to punish this school for having a large population of recent immigrants when the vast majority of schools in the country don't even have sizable enough immigrant populatinos to warrant having an ESOL program at all.

So Jesse, you nailed it on the crux of the issue when you say, "It seems somehow ironic to me that the schools which most need assistance have the greatest number of obstacles thrown in their paths."

Lastly, I'd like to point out something that you didn't emphasize very much in your post: the same WaPo article you linked to also says, "The GAO has twice ruled that the Bush administration's use of prepackaged videos - to promote federal drug policy and a new Medicare law - is 'covert propaganda' because the videos do not make clear to the public that the government produced the promotional news." So, this is not the first time the administration has illegally spent tax dollars to covertly promote its agenda. Both the Medicare and drug policy videos mentioned above were fake news shows meant to trick the viewer into thinking that it was an actual journalistic investigation. I personally have to wonder why the administration must covertly support their agenda-- as if things like the recent Medicare "reform" or the "Oh-So-Successful-War-On-Drugs" can't stand on their own merits. But more seriously, it's somewhat disturbing to me that TV stations would actually air these ads: shouldn't the act of airing a fake news program spark a massive outcry by their informed viewership and cause the station to lose any credibility in the community?

 
At 8:54 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

I found this quote on NYTimes.com, but I've learned to stop linking to them only, since their articles aren't open to the public after a week or so.

"I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs," Bryan Monroe, an official of the black journalists' group.

 

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