Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Aiken Standard: Time to leave NCLB


When the No Child Left Behind act was enacted 10 years ago it was heralded as a program to bring accountability to the country's education system. It set standards and measurement methods designed to reward achievement and punish failure.

But the program has flaws. For one, it ignores differences in favor of a one-size-fits-all method. And, success is all or nothing. If a school passes 16 of 17 objectives, the school fails.

So for a decade, teachers and administrators have been battling these cumbersome mandates. The result, too many schools, especially schools in poorer areas, have turned to teaching what it will take to pass the one-size-fits-all tests. It's even more distressing to know what's happened to many special needs students who are expected to stay on grade level despite their disabilities.

There have been some gains in academic achievement. But teachers are burdened by massive paperwork, and schoolchildren are unreasonably pressured to do well on standardized tests.

To be vindicated in one's lifetime is a supreme joy. Educators -- people who know their profession best -- HAVE been saying these things since 2002, to no avail. After a decade of being ground down, it is comfort -- cold comfort, but comfort -- to hear opinion-makers like newspaper editors finally reach the same conclusions.

When the Obama Administration opened the door for states to opt out of portions of the program, South Carolina Superintendent of Schools Mick Zais wisely raised his hand quickly to take advantage. Zais has made no secret of his abhorrence for federal intervention in public schools. He's turned down millions of dollars in federal money because it came with strings attached.

Tonight, State Department of Education officials will be in Aiken to explain the proposal for the state to opt out of some of the program. A waiver would change the assessment of student performance to a growth model so that increases in student achievement from year to year would become a larger part of the assessment process.

According to its drafted application, South Carolina would pilot its revamped teacher and principal evaluation systems in 2013-14 with schools that volunteer. It would expand statewide in 2014-15.

It includes replacing the all-or-nothing label of making progress with a grade, from A to F. It also adds a carrot to the accountability system: The highest-performing schools and those that show the biggest gains would get rewarded, with $5,000 going to finalists in each category and $10,000 going to the winners.

Out of one deep fryer and into another. If I interpret the Zais proposal correctly, he intends to operate his own little NCLB here in South Carolina using the federal education funding, with letter grades to boot.

At what point do we allow educators to govern education, rather than political ideologues and corporate profiteers?

If South Carolina gets the waiver, it will be up to Zais to make sure the methods used do improve the system are fair and do make a significant difference.

So much for that.

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