G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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“There is nothing more unequal, than the equal treatment of unequal people.” – Thomas Jefferson as quoted in Alabama’s petition for relief from the No Child Left Behind Act
In order to comply with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, the state has set a goal of, for example, increasing black students’ reading proficiency from 38% to 74% by 2017-2018. For whites, the stated goal is to improve from the current 69% proficiency rate up to 88%.
NCLB mandated from the federal level that all students had to achieve proficiency in math and reading by 2014. The entire system was set up for failure. Educators are charged with bringing all kids up to proficiency without regard to their background or their abilities. As Frederick Hess, a staunch critic of achievement gap policies, wrote:
In essence, NCLB was an effort to link “conservative” nostrums of accountability to Great Society notions of “social justice.” The result was a noble exercise hailed for its compassion. The sad truth, however, is that the whole achievement-gap enterprise has been bad for schooling, bad for most children, and bad for the nation.
The various cheating scandals in school districts across the country – Washington D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, and now El Paso – are all evidence that state and local school administrators are struggling to produce acceptable test results with inferior inputs.
States failing to comply with the mandate would be hit with sanctions. To avoid such sanctions states have the option of appealing for flexibility waivers. They can be approved for such waivers and avoid having to meet these rigorous proficiency standards – as 33 states and Washington D.C. have now done – by laying out actionable plans to improve proficiency for low-performing students. These action plans involve showing the federal government their goals for the test scores of minority, disabled, and poor students.
North Carolina’s proficiency targets:
Jeb Bush has carried the torch for his brother’s program. He wrote last month in the Washington Times:
This appears to be more about taking the pressure off adults than boosting the learning gains of minority children.
You don’t close an achievement gap by institutionalizing it.
Instead of merely adjusting expectations for different demographic groups, educators should set the same high standard for all children. They then should adopt a plan that emphasizes the progress being made by all low performers, regardless of demographics.
Funny, though, the entire interaction between educators and parents is about adults trying to move the pressures from themselves to some other group for the learning failures of kids throughout the country.
Jeb seems to conflate groups and individuals. This seems to be a common fallacy resulting from dogmatic allegiance to political correctness. In Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, as with all states, standards are the same for all kids. Their standard is set by the terms “Grade-level” or “proficient”. They either “pass” or they “fail”. All kids are held to that standard, but it is a mere fact that when these kids are grouped together and measured – as NCLB mandated – that they display different achievement outcomes. When a state sets a goal for a particular group, they are not tinkering with standards. Expectations and goals are not standards.
But if one must play by the rules of the prevailing system, it is a no-brainer that students of different races should have different sets of expectations. Imagine if you are a state level educator and you are charged with bringing black kids up to a certain level of proficiency. The federal government wants to know what you’ll do to improve that. You can tell the feds that you’ll bring black kids up to the same level of proficiency as white kids. You might be able to do this by lowering the proficiency rates of white kids. But that won’t look good either. So instead of just fantasizing about black kids being as proficient as a group as white kids, you paint a picture wherein black students gradually improve over time. If you set the goal up high with the white kids, you know the black kids won’t meet that goal and you end up shooting yourself in the foot because you’ve failed on the only metric the feds care about: whether or not you met the goal you said you’d meet. It doesn’t matter that you set the goal because the feds forced you to set it based upon sketchy assumptions.