Friday, January 26, 2007

Statement Regarding NCLB and the State of the Union Address

January 24, 2007

American Association of School Administrators Statement on State of the Union Address

ARLINGTON, Va. – The American Association of School Administrators, the professional organization for school superintendents and other school system leaders nationwide, today issued the following statement on President Bush’s State of the Union address:

“We are disappointed in President Bush’s plans for education, which he mentioned in his State of the Union message last night. The President reiterated his plans to ‘stay the course’ with his badly flawed program created by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. He claims the program has been successful, when teachers, parents and children know that its main success has been in diverting attention and energy away from real learning and a comprehensive curriculum. While the President acknowledged that changes needed to be made to the law and flexibility would be required, his overall approach failed to consider the destructive elements of his policy and how they might be addressed differently in the future.

“The President holds fast to the idea that ‘accountability’ must be pursued by a coercive process of federal oversight built upon a few rewards and a great deal of punishment, and his unbending belief that student achievement is the equivalent of a single test given to every child every year. It should be noted that other countries that are economic competitors have found ways of shaping accountability to be a process of continuous improvement carried out in a collaborative manner.

“The President, like most Americans, is concerned with our ability to stay internationally competitive. However, his unbending support of a law that that narrows and minimizes the educational experience undercuts the very creativity and innovation necessary to be competitive in the international environment.

“The President’s ideas for privatizing education under the cloak of parental choice has actually weakened the very skills and children his program purports to help by siphoning off higher achieving children and resources to private and more privileged schools. His proposal to create two new voucher programs will not ensure increased student achievement; it will simply divert federal tax dollars from public schools to private schools that are not held to the same standards the President espouses.

“During the five years NCLB has been in place, several of its underlying assumptions have inhibited students’ progress. For example, the law has failed to take into account the individual learning needs of students in special education and students with limited English proficiency. Under NCLB, students are judged on a single test score, rather than multiple measures that more accurately reflect students’ individual growth and learning during the school year. In addition, the law’s focus on reading and math test results has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, which limits schools’ ability to offer children the broad education they need to succeed in life.
“There is a better way to proceed to close the achievement gap and increase student achievement. We support a fundamental transformation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to restore the law’s original intent to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children. We ask the Congress to join us in an effort to transform the current version of ESEA. Specifically, we ask that the Congress enact and the President support:

-A law and regulations based on trust and an assumption that teachers and principals are trying their best to improve the achievement of all students, including low-income students;
-Continued improvement of how student achievement is measured and data is used to assess group scores and individual progress;
-Selecting a goal for progress in student achievement that is attainable;
-Focusing the federal government’s role in education on providing support and developing capacity for improvement, rather than emphasizing sanctions; and
-Engaging parents of low-income students as regular participants and partners in their children’s achievement.”

About AASA The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across America and in many other countries. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. AASA’s major focus is standing up for public education. For more information about this press release, please contact Amy Vogt, communications and media relations manager, at or 703-875-0723.


Amy Sabbadini said...

Here here!

Steve Carlson said...

Doug. Generally, finding the answer to a problem is related to a correct identification of the problem itself. NCLB was enacted to combat a host of concerns thought to be related to the declining quality of education in the United States. While there have been a number of challenges to that basic assumption - and while everyone would agree that education is delivered unevenly throghuout the country - the following article from the Washington Post is informative.

Like the statements you cite, it suggests that a focus on continuous improvement rather than crisis management is the more informed and better course of action. A process of continuous improvement has at its heart assessment and accountability. However, the opportunity to engage in a professional and societal debate about the breadth and depth of the curriculum has been sorely missing. Similarly, discussion of the nature of learner expectations (rote memorization? informed questioning?) has been absent and replaced by ideological and legislative dictate.

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post
Sunday, January 21, 2007; B02

The usual hand-wringing accompanied the Department of Education's release late last year of new statistics on how U.S. students performed on international tests.

How will the United States compete in the global economy, went the lament, when our students lag behind the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong in math and science? American fourth-graders ranked 12th in the world on one international math test, and eighth-graders were 14th. Is this further evidence of the failure of the nation's schools?

Not exactly. In fact, a closer look at how our kids perform against the international "competition" suggests that this story line may contain
more than a few myths:

1. U.S. students rate poorly compared with those in the rest of the world.

This is true only if you cherry-pick the results. University of Pennsylvania researchers Erling E. Boe and Sujie Shin looked at six major international tests in reading, math, science and civics conducted from 1991 through 2001. Their conclusion: Americans are above average when compared with 22 other industrialized nations. In civics, no nation scored significantly higher than the United States; in reading, only 13 percent did. Even in math and science -- the two subjects considered "vital" to future technological competitiveness -- the United States fell in roughly the middle of the pack. No gold star, but hardly a crisis, either.

More interesting, when compared with students in the world's most industrialized countries, U.S. students were on par with the others in every subject (and outperformed everyone in civics). And every Western country, not just the United States, lagged behind Japan in math and science, suggesting that the "achievement gap" in these subjects is an East-West phenomenon rather than an American one.

2. U.S. students are falling behind.

Actually, American students are mostly improving, or at worst holding their own. As the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows, America's eighth-graders improved their math and science scores in 1995, 1999 and 2003. Only students in Hong Kong, Latvia and Lithuania -- three relatively tiny and homogenous entities – improved more than the United States did. Indeed, no nation included in the major international rankings educates as many poor students or as ethnically diverse a population as does the United States. Yet even as the percentage of historically low-achieving students has increased, our test scores have risen. Unfortunately, news accounts focus on the relative position of American students (are we No. 1 or No. 12?) rather than on their absolute performance (did they improve, regardless of what others did?).

3. U.S. students won't be well prepared for the modern workforce.

This myth has been bandied around since at least the turn of the century -- the 19th century -- by business leaders who blame schools for inadequately preparing workers. It's part of the never-ending notion that U.S. schools are in crisis.

Education researcher Gerald W. Bracey cites a March 1957 cover story in Life magazine -- at the height of post-Sputnik paranoia over Soviet scientific prowess -- that contrasts the stern, rigorous education of a Moscow teenager (complicated physics and chemistry courses) with the carefree lifestyle of a Chicago youth (rehearsals for his high school musical). The cover headline: "Crisis in Education."

In the 1980s, when Japan seemed to be an unstoppable economic juggernaut, the seminal policy manifesto "A Nation at Risk," written by a blue-ribbon panel at the behest of the Department of Education, warned that deficiencies in high school graduates "come at a time when the demand for highly skilled workers in new fields is accelerating rapidly."

Despite these doomsday cases, the United States survived and, by many measures, bested the competition. Today, with the Soviet Union a memory and Japan facing its own economic and demographic problems, the anxieties have shifted to China and other Asian rivals.

4. Bad schooling has undermined America's competitiveness.

This canard -- perhaps the biggest of them all -- was given a boost by the recent World Economic Forum survey of international economies. Typically this annual survey ranks the U.S. economy as the most competitive in the world, but last year it put the United States in sixth place. However, the drop had nothing to do with test scores or school performance. Rather, the forum cited U.S. trade and budget deficits, a low savings rate, tax cuts and the federal government's increased spending on defense and homeland security.

Another recent survey, by the Council on Competitiveness, a Washington-based business advisory group, found that over the past two decades the U.S. economy grew faster than that of any other advanced nation, and generated a third of the world's economic growth. Yet this performance followed a period in which the authors of "A Nation at Risk" were warning that a "rising tide of [educational] mediocrity . . . threatens our very future as a nation." That was in 1983. Those high-school mediocrities are now turning 40, and presumably have been playing a part in helping the U.S. economy grow "faster than any other advanced economy" over the past two decades.

A dynamic economy is much more than the sum of its test scores. It's part of a culture that rewards innovation and risk-taking, and values unconventional problem-solving. Much of this is nurtured in our schools, even if it can't be quantified on a test.

Recently, Newsweek International's Fareed Zakaria noted Singapore's success on international math and science exams, but asked Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam why Singapore produced so few top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives and academics.

"We both have meritocracies," he replied. America's "is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well -- like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if itmeans challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore mustlearn from America."

Our current (and past) economic success suggests something that educational alarmists and their sky-is-falling friends in the news media seem reluctant to admit: American schools may have a lot to fix, but they may be doing a few things right, too.

5. How we stack up on international tests matters, if only for national pride.

Yes, we're a nation of strivers and self-improvers; the American drive to be the biggest and the best in everything seems part of our national character. But if being No. 1 in education is our goal, shouldn't we also want to be No. 1 in all the things closely linked to academic achievement, such as quality of childhood health care and reduction of childhood poverty? National pride can be a destructive concept, especially when it views learning as a zero-sum game ("their" gains are "our" losses, and vice versa). Continuous improvement should be our goal, regardless of whether we're No.1 in the test-score Olympics.

Paul Farhi is a Washington Post staff writer.