-- a Gerald Bracey Report on the Condition of Education
Gerald W. Bracey
Gerald W. Bracey is an independent researcher and writer and author of The War Against America's Public Schools (Allyn & Bacon, 2002).
The No Child Left Behind Act is a trap. Its purpose is to ensnare public schools and kill them. Then the vultures who want to privatize the schools will swoop in and pick the bones. Hyperbole? I don't think so. An administration that is de-regulating every pollution producing industry in sight has hypocritically imposed straitjacket requirements on schools that would bankrupt any business. Why? Recall that Bush's original proposal provided vouchers to let children attend private schools at taxpayer expense.
There are any number of impossible-to-meet provisions in the NCLB, but let's take just two: those for testing and teacher qualifications. States that want NCLB money must test all children in grades three through eight every year in reading and math and, two years later, science as well. The tests must be based on "challenging" standards and schools must show "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) until, after 12 years, all of the schools' students attain the "proficient" level (proficient to be defined by each state). The school must demonstrate AYP overall and separately for all major ethnic and socio-economic groups. And pigs will fly.
The massive testing requirements alone will force almost all states to spend massive amounts of money to develop, administer, analyze and report the test results and other data needed for mandatory "report cards" for schools. Most states will have to abandon their own programs labored over for the last decade.
Districts and schools that fail to make AYP--and that will be virtually all of them--are subject to increasingly severe--and unworkable--sanctions. Their staffs can be fired, their kids sent to another district, the district abolished. Using the original formulation, the White House's own calculations revealed that had NCLB been in place for a few years, about 90% of the schools in North Carolina and Texas would have been labeled "failing schools." North Carolina and Texas? These are states that have been singled out in recent years for their progress on a variety of tests. If they can't meet the standards, what hope is there for the rest? None--that's the purpose of the law.
When the pre-ordained high failure rate occurs, privatization will be touted as the only possible cure. The privatizers will shout "Nothing has changed. Schools are an ossified government monopoly that can't reform themselves. We need to apply American business expertise to education." Right, as in Enron, Tyco and Global Crossing and the myriad dot.coms that failed because their officers didn't have a clue about how to run a business (how come no one ever criticizes business schools?).
Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools Inc. will be waiting in the wings. Whittle's original grandiose plan required that Bush I win the 1992 election and that he and his Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, successfully push voucher legislation through Congress. Kids could then have used their vouchers at private Edison schools. When Bush lost, Whittle had to resort to Plan B which, to date, has proven singularly unsuccessful. But he is ever lusting for more schools and no doubt already has an advertising campaign ready touting Edison as the means to achieve AYP.
If the ultimate requirements for testing results are twelve years down the road, those for "highly qualified" teachers hit home soon. All current teachers in schools receiving NCLB funds must be "highly qualified" by 2005-2006, as must anyone who is hired after the 2002-2003 school year begins. By "highly qualified," NCLB means those who hold at least a bachelor's degree, have full state certification (or have passed the state's licensing exam), and who have not had any certification requirements waived on "an emergency, provisional, or temporary basis."
Since virtually everyone in the country knows that there is a shortage of teachers with such qualifications and since everyone knows that the shortage is getting worse, especially in the needy cities, we can only assume that the framers of the legislation knew in advance that states could not meet the requirements. They just didn't care.
Even classroom paraprofessionals must have completed two years of college and have an associate's degree or have passed a state test on content and teaching skills. New hires must meet this requirement as of January 8, 2003; existing paraprofessionals have four years to ratchet up their credentials.
Paraprofessionals are low-salaried staff who often come from lower-income neighborhoods. There is no money to assist them to their degrees and if they should attain one, they will no doubt find more attractive salaries outside of the school. And better working conditions--NCLB greatly restricts what services they can provide to children.
Money can be as addictive as crack. How else to explain Democrat George Miller and Ted Kennedy's traitorous collusion in passing the law? States should look at the lucre-drug that Bush and the NCLB are offering them and just say no.
© 2000 Gerald Bracey
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