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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The NEA would be better off with Saddam Hussein's old PR guy 

As reported by the mainstream media:

A judge threw out a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to block the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush's signature education policy. The National Education Association said it would appeal.

The NEA and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government....

The school districts had argued that the law is costing them more than they are receiving in federal funding.

The law requires states to revise academic standards and develop tests to measure students' progress annually. If students fail to make progress, the law requires states to take action against school districts.

Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, said his group would appeal.

"Parents in communities where school districts are financially strained were promised that this law would close the achievement gaps," he said. "Instead, their tax dollars are being used to cover unpaid bills sent from Washington for costly regulations that do not help improve education."...

[Chief Judge] Friedman said that the law "cannot reasonably be interpreted to prohibit Congress itself from offering federal funds on the condition that states and school districts comply with the many statutory requirements, such as devising and administering tests, improving test scores and training teachers."

I will grant that unfunded mandates are a legitimate topic for debate, and that one can argue that it is irresponsible for Congress to impose requirements on the states, and then make the states pay for said requirements.

However, the NEA has committed a major public relations blunder. In essence, the so-called baby seal clubbers ("so-called" because Federal education standards are a neo-conservative policy, not a conservative policy) can now argue that they want to improve education, but the Communist unions are trying to fight in court to prevent education reform.

However, the following NEA statement (emphasis mine) might hold the key to the real issue:

[School district] tax dollars are being used to cover unpaid bills sent from Washington for costly regulations that do not help improve education.

In other words, Bush's proposal isn't the solution to educational problems. What is? Here's how NEA proposes to fix things:

NEA's efforts will focus on the following goals:

  • Continue as the leading advocate for high standards and strong accountability in public education at the state and local levels.

  • Pursue flexibility that supports student learning.

  • Increase support for teacher quality programs to recruit, train, and retain highly qualified educators for America's classrooms.

  • Make sure students, teachers, and schools are evaluated by more than just test scores

  • Provide parents and policymakers information that helps get at the causes of school failure, not just the effects.

  • Fully fund successful elementary and secondary education programs such as Title I to help children with math and reading.

  • Make struggling students and schools a priority.

Yes, most parts of this solution translate to "more money for members of our union." But there's also a mention of "flexibility." Here are some examples:

[E]ducators are concerned that a solitary focus on testing ignores important opportunities to help all students achieve at high levels. Over-reliance on testing could have the unintended consequence of hurting more than helping....

While the state of the art in testing has progressed tremendously, they remain less than perfect measures of student or school progress. A new generation of instructionally supportive tests is needed. These tests need to be developed in cooperation with teachers and based upon the essential standards such that test results become more useful to the teacher in assisting each student achieve those standards. Classroom assessment practices including the use of portfolios, projects, and performance assessments should also be enhanced through professional development and included in the comprehensive state assessment system....

Alternatives to a test as the sole means of accountability. Examples of other accountability systems include school accreditation, visiting teams, and displays of student work to the public. States, school districts, and schools should use multiple indicators of school effectiveness to make improvement decisions at each level. Test scores give little data to improve school operation....

A nationwide survey conducted by Education Week shows that 11 states identify low-performing schools solely on the basis of test scores. Decisions that affect individual students' life chances or educational opportunities must not be made on the basis of test scores alone....Accuracy requires that students have multiple opportunities to pass any test when the test results are used to make high-stakes decisions, such as promotion to the next grade or graduation from high school. More importantly, when there is valid evidence that a test score may not accurately reflect a student's true proficiency, predetermined alternatives to demonstrate ability to meet standards should be available to students. Absent such protections, school districts have suffered high dropout rates and degradation in the quality of curriculum. "We could realize significant progress in public education if proponents of standards-based reform joined hands with critics of high-stakes testing and effectively outlawed the use of high-stakes tests as sole indicators of student success," says Panasonic Foundation executive Scott Thompson in a Phi Delta Kappan article....

In the interest of assessment accuracy, testing programs must take into account student differences. For students who are learning English, a test written in English becomes, to one degree or another, a test of language proficiency. The degree of English language proficiency must be considered in deciding to administer the test. In testing students, the effects of their differences must be appropriately weighed in drawing conclusions from the test results.

This discussion raises the question - who should be responsible for determining whether someone has received a quality education? The NEA argues that teachers, as experts in education, should be responsible for determining this. However, a more utilitarian approach states that the consumers of education - namely, the employers - should make this determination. In fact, the employers make this determination every day, no matter what George Bush or the NEA says. If George Bush and/or the NEA proclaims that a graduate is well-educated, but the employer can't use said graduate, then the employer will try to find someone that does meet its standards. One example - I have a high school degree, an undergraduate degree, and an MBA, but if an employer determines that my Spanish language skills are lacking, then I ain't gonna be hired.

I'm waiting for Duncan Hunter to introduce a Congressional resolution as follows:

The United States shall not adopt any minimal education standards for high school students.

And I haven't even touched on issues in California. Don't want to upset my stomach before Thanksgiving.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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