OMG - Education Policy Version

The Most Sensible Thing I've Heard.

It just so happens to agree with my thoughts on the issue. Purely a coincidence.

No Child Left BehindThe backdrop of the sensible statement is an article discussing the State of Minnesota's coming request to be exempted from the No Child Left Behind law. "Brooklyn Center Superintendent Keith Lester said that the law, while passed with good intentions, has proved 'cumbersome, punitive and ineffective.'" Hear, hear.

The issue has never been about the intentions of the law, or even of testing in general. The number of professional educators who disapprove of testing in general is miniscule. Don't you remember the glee some teachers took when saying the words: "Put away your notes, we're going to have a pop quiz!" Evaluation is the backbone of teaching. The issue has been how testing has been implemented in specific. And the number one specific mistake that NCLB made was comparing apples to oranges. Do you think any useful data would come out of such a comparison? Could any? Very little, I'd say. But that is exactly what NCLB is based upon - comparing this year's third-graders with last year's. Every cumbersome, punitive and ineffective result of this law is based on comparing apples to oranges.

While this is very obvious to anyone who spends a minute thinking about it, and is well-known in educational discourse, the fact that comparing apples to oranges is a bad thing is almost never mentioned in our lamestream media. So I was delighted that this paraphrase got into the StarTribune's article.
Minnesota is likely to ask for permission to change the way it measures school progress, [Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda] Cassellius said. For example, instead of comparing one child's test scores to those of another child who's in the same grade the following year, schools should track how much individual students learn from year to year, she said.
Amen! And thank you, Sarah Lemagie!

Not only would this fix the comparison that forms the basis of all current judgements about schools and teachers, but because it is a federal law, it could add tremendously to research about school and teacher effectiveness. Each individual student would be tracked as they transferred schools and moved to another district, even when that involved a different state. The main benefits of this is two-fold. First, each individual student would be a walking, talking, breathing educational experiment. Second, student mobility could be controlled for.

Now don't get any roving ideas in regard to government tracking of individual kids and calling them experiments. Yes, it would make sense to use Social Security numbers to do the tracking, but using SSN's is really not that big a deal and the names and identifying information would be blinded to the researchers. The legitimate use of this information would be in service of the slogan, "One Child at a Time," which was actually considered as a name for the new federal law. It was discarded because the focus of the law was clearly not on treating each child as an individual. By the way, "No Child Left Behind" was used without permission of the trademark owner of that phrase, the Children's Defense Fund.

The student mobility issue is huge in today's public schools. From the above link to the Education Week background page on student mobility:
  • 15 to 20 percent of school-aged children moved in the previous year (2004)
  • One out of six children had attended three or more schools by the end of the 3rd grade (1994)
  • California schools with high mobility rates (30 percent or higher), reported that test scores for non-mobile students were considerably lower than those of students in schools with lower mobility rates (1999)
Those are some of the reasons that "[t]he National Center for Educational Accountability advocates the development of longitudinal student databases to allow school officials to track students across different schools throughout their school careers." One simple change in NCLB would make this easy to do. If only simple changes to federal law were simple.