September 4, 2007

Miller-McKeon draft thoughts

So how was your Labor Day? I spent part of mine combing through the NCLB reauthorization discussion draft made available a week ago. (My spouse and I agree that we don't engage in paid work on legal holidays, but we're allowed to do anything that's fun or citizenship oriented. So we're well-acquainted with various loopholes... call it 'gaming the system' if you wish. I called this citizenship, not fun. Yes, I did spend time with my family, with a good book, and in something creative.)

If you want to read my scribbles, you can look at my comments on the Miller-McKeon reauthorization draft (PDF, 12 MB). The first page is my attempt to cross-reference common criticisms of NCLB with pages/sections of the discussion draft that may address those criticisms. The rest are all of the pages of the draft (well, two pages per sheet) with my comments. The file is about 150 pages long, because I didn't scan the sheets I didn't have comments on. Please remember that I was (and still am) not happy with the short turnaround time for comments, so you'll find plenty of snark and a few comments that indicate I need to look up things to check whether the draft has changed language, etc.

I hope to have something more analytical within a day or three, but the first page shows my thinking that this draft attempts to address the vast majority of criticisms in different ways. That statement doesn't say anything about how well the draft addresses criticisms, but with a few notable exceptions, the draft does tackle the well-known gripes.

The exceptions (and these are important):

  1. How NCLB has been followed by the transformation of large numbers of schools into test-prep factories. (This is separate from the issue of curriculum-narrowing.)
  2. The mandate of a limited menu of fundamentally unproven restructuring options (made even more restrictive under the discussion draft).
  3. The failure to hold SES providers accountable in a timely way.
  4. The waste of the 20% set-aside provision for schools in the "needs improvement" category.
  5. The fundamentally arbitrary nature of defining levels of proficiency.

The discussion draft fails to address any of these five criticisms. These are all substantive problems, well-known to anyone who's dealt with NCLB, and the failure to even acknowledge #1 in any way shows how the Beltway conventional wisdom has its head in the sand on test-prep. But despite my somewhat cynical disappointment on these matters, to my surprise, my impression is that the discussion draft provides a reasonable basis for negotiating reauthorization. Of the items listed above, I suspect the only non-negotiable item from the inside-the-Beltway perspective is #4, and I think that is the least important issue to address in the short term (i.e., reauthorization).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on September 4, 2007 9:11 AM |