Outside of Lake Wobegon …

… not all children are above average. Arne Duncan seems to have noticed, and will propose to change No Child Left Behind accordingly.

… not all children are “above average.” A requirement that all students to be “proficient” by 2014 could only be met by redefining “proficient.” It’s not clear what the Obama Administration is going to propose – and there’s no hint that it plans to replace outmoded Taylorite defect-finding with statistical quality assurance – but they are going to insist on performance and they are not going to insist on the impossible. That’s progress.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

16 thoughts on “Outside of Lake Wobegon …”

  1. I can't believe the Duncan is still going to be Secretary of Education after his comment that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in NOLA. The guy is failing upward so bad he must have pictures of Naked Obama with Sarah Palin or something, because nothing else explains how he got or keeps his job. If a Republican had said what he did, millions of emails would be zooming around the interwebs asking people to take umbrage.

  2. Could you talk a little more about this? I've heard it, but it doesn't make sense to me yet. If "proficient" means "capable of doing the basics adequately", why would everyone need to be above average to achieve "proficiency"?

  3. Actually, I think he's got a pretty good case that the education system in NOLA was so badly run, that despite the devestation, they're actually better off now because of the shake up. Here's an example of just how bad it had gotten, pre-Katrina.

  4. Sam, the catch-22 of NCLB (as it is currently written) is that every year, each school's scores must be higher than the year before. So, if your school had scored say, 90% proficiency on the 4th grade math test last year, this year it has to score 91%, the year after that, 92%, etc., until the year when you have to have 100% — that would be 2014, for every school, everywhere. Otherwise, your school is subject to various penalties, which increase in severity as each year of not measuring up passes. The worse penalties are that your entire staff gets fired and replaced (Whoo-hoo, an organization without any institutional memory! Sounds like a winning formula to me) or the school is closed and privatized. In short, that's why they call this "high-stakes testing."

    Now each state has slightly different variations on this theme, but in Ohio, less than 2% of special ed kids can be exempted (Most schools average about 10-12% with special needs). So, for example, you have my kid's old elementary school, enrollment just under 500, and in the years he attended, between 12 and 18 kids with autism, not to mention other disabilities that might um, affect your ability to test well. (Yes, that is a somewhat high percentage of kids on the autism spectrum, it's a well-funded, well-run suburban district and it attracts a lot of families like mine.) So let's do some math: 2% of 500 is 10, and already with just one disability we likely have more than 10 kids who are going to drag the average scores down, down, down. We'd better hope there's a lot of gifted kids who can pull the average up.

    Then there are the kids who are just learning to speak English. They get exempted for the first year, then they have to take all the tests in English. Which they may not have exactly finished mastering, especially when it comes to subject areas with very specialized vocabularies like science. One of the school districts in my area really saw their scores fall when their Latino population increased in a fairly short amount of time.

    Even as I type this, I know this all sounds ridiculous, like something out of Alice in Wonderland, if there was a chapter where she stumbled into a school district. For one thing, every year it's a different group taking for example, the fourth grade test. You're not tracking whether an individual student is improving, you're tracking the luck of the draw of the fourth grade teacher, who either got a class that was easy for her to teach or a class that was hard for her to teach. Maybe she got a lot of kids who had that not-so-good third grade teacher and most of them haven't yet memorized their times tables. The fourth grade teacher can double-down on the times tables but she'll run out of time to teach the rest of fourth grade math before The Test in April.

    I could go on and on, but this already is a very long comment. I think it should be obvious that the only way states can protect their schools is to make the tests very easy. Which is what Mark was talking about.

  5. This silly idea of putting all children, some dumb as a brick, some average, some well above average and at least 50% from broken homes and expect a Teacher to mold by themselves is outright stupid. To help them learn according to their ability is all that should be expected and keep the politics out of it. The standards for all can never be equal without hurting some children. We're spending too much borrowed money on this political idea.

  6. Nice comment. And you are right about the no. of children not being "above average". In this case it's more a matter of how many of our kids don't even measure UP to "average" when compared with their foreign counter-parts. At any level of schooling. And it won't get any better by dropping the No Child Left Behind scenario. Under previous "reforms" there have been NO improvements and a TON of money has been spent for "improvements". The ONLY thing that has improved in education in the last 30 years, and it has been a very sharp, upward movement, has been the salaries of the idiots who can't even BEGIN to close the education gap. American teachers, as a whole, are the worst in the world. And they wonder why no one gives them any respect?

  7. I feel that a LOT of explanations need to be said. More detail on how this is going to be possible to happen.

    Don't think so if it is to be done from what I read. Don't get me wrong….I am all for an overhaul of the education system.

    There are a LOT of children, including my grandchildren, who have learning

    disabilities. Even in a "special class" they are trying to teach them algebra, when they barely can do

    simple math and reading. Their ages are 10 & 11. We do need help in the education department. FOR THE CHILDREN… who are the future of our country. Physical education is vital as far as I am concerned.

    So many children are not getting the help they need from home as well.

    Where is the money? Very didturbing.


  8. I feel that no child left behind is a joke to cover up how lacking our system of teaching children how to read has become…I don’t know how your children are being taught to read but in California our students are taught what they call sight reading – what this means is that a child is taught to basically mesmerize the words or spell them how they think it sounds…they are not taught phonics anymore .. They are not taught how to sounds out a word or that i comes before e except after c..or that certain letters when combined will make a certain sound. I couldn't understand this new way of teaching children to read…why did they take phonics out of the equation…I was told because not everyone can learn that way…when I was in school 99.9% of us could and did learn this way …when a child can not read a word because they have never seen it before and they have no idea what to do with it – how to sound it out, after a while they feel stupid and give up, and then drop out…how can you learn if you cant read … you cant do word problems in math or pass the exit exam .. Why, because you cant read the problems. The Broad of Education needs to re-evaluate the reading curriculum and maybe let teachers once again include phonics in the classroom.. I cant see it making the problem any worse than it is now. Who knows our children might even learn how to read again..


    Mother of 4 who is so gratefully for the program H_ _ _ _ _ O_ Phonics.

  9. The “No Child Left Behind” is a good program because it recognizes the important of every child. The program uses tutors that go to poor areas to tutor children that might have been ignored by their teachers during class time. Sometimes a teacher might ask, is there any one that has a question? But some students are shy or due to their lack of English comprehension are afraid to ask a question. However, they are able to open up when the tutor go to help them at home or at the public library.

    If there is no money to pay the tutors due to cancelling the program then many children will suffer falling behind and instead of progress it would be a disaster.

  10. NCLB is a joke. Education is not one size fits all!!! Instead of testing our children to see if a school is proficient test the teachers and those running the school/s! You get out what you put in! Common sense tells you – you can not give the same test to all students and expect all the students to be proficient. Especially, when the special Ed. students are not even allowed to use thier everyday school accomadation/modifications on the state tests! Not to mention how classroom instruction is now being wasted teaching all students how to take the test! There is talk now the state testing in nj will not be one test at the end of certain years but after certain subjects that they want the students to be proficient in. What will happen if you pass your highschool algabra class but not the state test for it? How did we get where we are in life without all this testing?

  11. The “No Child Left Behind” encounters a brick wall when it deals with the “Latino Population” for the following reasons: 1) the parents don’t speak English. If the parents do not speak English, there is no way said parents can help those children with their homework. 2) The parents have two jobs, or one works night time and the other works during the day and therefore, the children are on their own. In many situations this latter is very typical of a Latino family. Some of the children are responsible and very mature. However, when the parents are not involved in their children’s education, said children fall behind and finally drop out of school.

    Many do not graduate from High School for the above given reasons. Then if they get to go to a Junior College they encounter the same problem and their college performance is below average. Some drop their classes because of getting two many bad grades or not taking the quizzes on time or not attending college classes due to having found a part-time job after they started attending classes.

  12. Emanual, I hope you are not reacting to what I wrote before. I mentioned the hit the Lebanon, Ohio schools' test scores took when their Latino population grew only because it was a news story here and a very dramatic example of how NCLB is rigged to ensure failure. That school district has a good reputation; the teachers didn't all suddenly become bad at their jobs. Yet what I understand about the changes Obama and Duncan are proposing, these teachers would be penalized for these students' "failures" because their professional evaluations would have to reflect these children's failing test scores.

    No one should assume that "English as a foreign language speaker" equals only Latino. Even here in flyover Ohio, our local schools have students with well over a hundred different native languages, and they all have to take the NCLB tests after only a year of school. I remember the day I was volunteering in my kid's elementary school and the teachers were all atwitter because the brand new second grade student who had just arrived hours ago spoke only Turkish (they had a student teacher make up a book of pictures about the school day with English and Turkish captions — thank God for the internet — and counted the hours until the part-time ESL teacher was due in).

  13. Ohio Mom,

    I am fairly familiar with the issues you mention. (My wife was a high-school math/special ed teacher when we married, in a similarly small school district.) I KNOW the special-needs/learning-disabled system is unreasonable.

    My question is why (for non-special-ed, non-ESL) students, 100% proficiency is not a reasonable standard.

  14. When one speaks about no child left behind program it should be about english speaking Americans. It includes teaching the children with different levels of learning ability based on different levels of intelligence and expecting them all to pass a common test at the end of each year. This is nuts. Some are very capable and can pass the tests with ease, others will never make it. These differences in mental ability must be recognized early in life and children taught according to their capability. If anyone is blamed for the problems it should be the parents. when the children are seeking jobs later in life whether it be civilian or military and taking placement tests reality will surly set in for them.

    Obviously, special ED. is a different and expensive program. it should not even be a part of the NCLB program. It is unique.

    When people enter the USA LEGALLY that do not speak english, they know their children will have problems in school. Therefore, they should put their own resourses to teaching their children the language of the land. Instead they rely on politics, American compassion and sympathy and tax payer funds, now in short supply, to solve their problem.

    Those that are not American citizens, should not have their children's education funded, they all have a country with an education system. To assume that other countries cannot educate their children is a pompous attitude and making us all vulnerable. This country now has a 14.5 trillion dollar debt now, it is getting to the point that reality must set in and shift most of the responsibility to the parents. They should not be allowed to be irresponsible and load the education system down children then scream for government help.

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