Term Paper: Hernando County and NCLB: Mandate

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[. . .] 4 million to pay for resource materials, textbooks and so on. (Long 2004)

The Hernando County Situation in a Larger Context

Under the state's own grading system (see chart above), almost half of Florida's schools earned As. But under the NCLB act's requirements, almost 80 were found to need improvement (Matus and Waite 2004). Gov. Jeb Bush explained it by saying the tests "measure different things" (Matus and Waite 2004) Frances Marine, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman offered an analogy to explain it:

All-Star basketball player dunks, rebounds and nails 3-pointers with ease, but his free throw shooting is poor. In the same way, an A school may need to focus more attention on its students with limited English skills. (Matus and Waite 2004)

Unfortunately, her analogy is flawed. The basketball player wouldn't be trying to improve his free-throw shooting because he is valuable enough to the team as he is, and no one can be all things to all people. Public schools do, however, need to be all things to all people. In that part of her analogy, she is correct; under NCLB the school may need to improve its work with students with limited English skills, or low-income students, or any other population group.

This obviously would make it easier for states with fewer varied population groups.

Matus and Waite note that, ironically, it was Gov. Bush "who decided how stringently No Child would be applied in Florida, which has a far higher percentage of schools failing to meet federal standards than most states" (2004). Florida decided, with the governor's urging, that each of the subgroups counted under NCLB could be as small as 30 students. This means it does not take many students with poor scores to lower the mean and median scores of the group. "With most states, subgroups are bigger, so fewer schools get snared," Matus and Waite noted (2004).

National Commentary on NCLB

President George W. Bush has often claimed a sort of conservative successorship to President Ronald Reagan. However, this sort of intrusive activity of the federal government in a local issue -- schools "is 'exactly the kind of thing (former President Ronald) Reagan preached against'," according to Matus and Waite (2004).

While the education press is filled to the brim with interim, partial and stop-gap solutions to some parts of NCLB, as a look at the relevant Web sites instantly reveals, the national press -- particularly respected commentary publications -- has spent a lot of ink in putting the NCLB firmly where it belongs, tagged as "probably the most sweeping nationalization of school policy in the nation's history" according to an article in The American Prospect (Schrag 2004, 38+). Formally, the article noted, it was just an extension of the Johnson Era Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Next to the gentle prodding of education toward a new century that characterized the 1965 act, the mandates of the NCLB act are draconian. Schrag sets them out in context. He notes the law's basic objectives, as well as the consequences of failing to meet those objectives.

First, says Schrag, the NCBL was meant to:

Create an accountability system of tests, graduation rates, and other indicators that would force individual schools and districts to make adequate yearly progress by raising not only school-wide test scores but the achievement levels of every major subgroup of students -- African-Americans, Latinos, English language learners, low-income students, special-education students -- to a state-defined level of proficiency. (2004)

That doesn't sound too far from the U.S. Department of Education claim that it merely wants greater accountability for testing results nationwide. (U.S. Dept. Of Education Web site)

However, schools that don't, according to testing, make progress for two years running in each group in each subject and grade (emphasis mine) will be forced into "Program Improvement," which in turn leads to escalating sanctions and "interventions including, ultimately, a state takeover until progress targets are met. (Schrag 2004, 38+)

Second, the NCLB requires schools and districts to issue report cards on themselves, providing data on the performance and quality of each school. This is the aspect that makes it possible for children from low-performing schools to transfer to better ones, with the district forced to provide transportation. Extra help would be provided for those who need it. Schrag notes that this means students wouldn't have to stay trapped in the nation's most horrible schools. Neither would Bush's original desire, private-school vouchers. HE got the transfer option instead from Congress. (Schrag 2004, 38+) But then, there is no statute, yet, saying private schools would have to accept the bad-school fleeing population just because they had vouchers; the real problem might have been whether the students had the grades or ability for private school, and whether the schools had room and, being private, wanted to take in the bad-school escapees.

Finally, the NCLB act required that school districts provide the necessary resources, especially "highly qualified teachers" in every classroom by the 2005-2006 school year. President Bush agreed to a 27% increase in Elementary and Secondary Education Act funding, to $22 billion the first year and more later. So far, it has fallen significantly short of that amount. (Schrag 2004)

So far, the problems with the NCLB act concern nationalization of schools and imposition of requirements that have fiscal requirements currently under-funded by the federal government, despite promises. There is another problem, however, that may be the single worst one for education per se. While ensuring that all districts will have a hard time dealing with the requirements of the act itself, it also allowed each state to set its own proficiency standards and teacher-excellence standards. So, some states created tough standards to live up to, and others chose the easier path. "Thus while Michigan reported that some 1,500 schools (40% of all the state's public ones) failed to make their adequate yearly progress goals in 2000-01, Arkansas and Wyoming, with lower proficiency standards, reported none" (Schrag 2004, 38+). He added that because "NCLB imposes costly remedial requirements on districts with large numbers of what are officially called underperforming schools, it creates strong incentives for states with high standards to lower them" (, 38+ 2004). The conclusion is obvious: NCLB may ensure that no child is left behind, but it may do it by ensuring that no student is actually required to learn anything. It seems unlikely that states that find themselves losing their federal Title 1 money would choose not to lower their standards.

Even that, however, might not get them completely out of the woods. Testing 95% of all subgroups in all grades is a challenge. In high schools, a 90% attendance rate is extraordinary. While that may not be desirable, it is a fact of life that districts deal with day after day, and one that could help shove the district into a "federally mandated shape up program" even if the school is good one in every way except attendance. Should any of this occur, then the principal and teachers are subject to reassignment after four years. (, 38+ 2004) This last facet of the sanctions is more than draconian; it is a violation of First Amendment rights vis-a-vis due process, and it wouldn't be surprising if an attorney made the case that it was basically government conscription. After all, by that point, the teachers in question would be virtually working for the federal government that does not have the right to tell private citizens where they may work.

The requirements of the law have already been amended, so it is possible that these more Machiavellian mandates might change. And there is the possibility that the law may be interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education on a state-by-state basis. For example, California and Illinois have received wavers concerning treatment of scores of students who arrive in the district speaking little English. When those students become proficient in English, they are then, under NCLB, redesignated as "English proficient" and they are no longer counted in the English-learner category. So, the better a school is at teaching English to non-English speakers, may not be able to show the required progress year to year in that category because those who have improved the most simply are moved out of it. " 'It feels like you're being set up,' said a veteran school administrator and federal official who is now a superintendent in a large city with a mushrooming immigrant population" (, 38+ 2004).

Two years ago, NEA Today asked four experienced educators for their reactions to the proposed mandates of the NCLB act. Here, mainly paraphrased, are some of their responses:

Although tests can be important, and SATs are needed to get into college, it is not a good idea to use test scores to judge teachers and schools.

Standardized multiple choice test scores do not provide information that's value for instruction and, particularly in elementary school, existing tests do not reflect… [END OF PREVIEW]

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