Actually, that's not a very accurate term for what I really am...which is a podcatcher. I listen to a series of weekly podcasts that others have produced. ...so, in that sense, I catch them. I get them through iTunes. (I may podcast my "Foundations of education in Kentucky lectures" from EKU this spring...but that's not a done deal...and is another story anyway.)
One of my regular programs is KCRW's "To The Point," with host Warren Olney.
This past week, Olney was interviewing President Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, about the recent Global Warming Conference in Bali, Indonesia, and the scientists' talk about long-term goals for curbing the negative effects of climate change (and replacing the Kyoto Protocol). At this meeting targets were discussed -much like the targets imposed by No Child Left Behind - and the European Union's growing frustration with the United States.
It was a remarkable example of how natural scientists eschew the kinds of heavy-handed and unrealistic targets that have made NCLB the object of so much derision from teachers and many others.
The prevailing sentiment among developed nations is that mandatory targets are necessary for success. The Bush administration opposes any targets claiming that the other nations are "prejudging the outcome" and therefore America won't agree to anything. President Bush prefers an aspirational long-term goal ...and then leaving each country to do whatever it thinks best.
But when it comes to prejudging the outcomes in America's schools - the Bush administration has no such problem.
During the discussion Olney asked Claussen a question that might have come right out of NCLB discussions.
There you have it. NCLB's twisted logic and the resulting rejection of an otherwise worthy ideal, exposed in a nutshell.
Olney: "What's the point of setting targets that are so difficult to meet that it might be impossible?"
Claussen: "Well, I think, myself, that that's really silly. We ought to set targets, and I believe that they ought to be mandatory. But they have to be something that is possible to achieve. Otherwise, the currency is worth nothing. I mean, you say you're going to do things, and you never do them."
It's big-hearted, but empty-headed.
As Kentucky School News and Commentary reported in May,
"Education Trust has finally admitted that "every child proficient in reading and math by 2014" is much better as a slogan and aspiration than as the operating principle for a serious accountability regime.
It's the classic overreach, the epitome of excess. This pronouncement-cum-policy has encouraged states to play games: mucking around with "n-sizes" and "confidence intervals" to avoid the "every child" component, racing to the bottom with their definitions of "proficiency," and back-loading their timelines in the expectation of a miracle in the last year or two before the 2014 deadline.
Ed Trust appears to have gotten the picture. Regarding "every child," its proposal would allow states with high standards (those that indicate readiness for college and work) to aim for 80 percent of students in every subgroup achieving proficiency rather than 100 percent. (Ninety-five percent of students would have to achieve a "new basic" level, "indicating preparation for active citizenship, military service, and entry into postsecondary education or formal employment training.") Furthermore, it would differentiate between those schools that miss their performance targets by a mile and those that fall short by a few inches."
But it's too late for NCLB.
A reasonable scheme might have saved it, but the locked-down position taken by Margaret Spellings on behalf of the Bush administration appears to be its undoing.
As the New York Times reported yesterday,
"Teachers cheered Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton when she stepped before them last month at an elementary school in Waterloo, Iowa, and said she would “end” the No Child Left Behind Act because it was “just not working.”
Mrs. Clinton is not the only presidential candidate who has found attacking the act, President Bush’s signature education law, to be a crowd pleaser — all the Democrats have taken pokes.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has said he wants to “scrap” the law. Senator Barack Obama has called for a “fundamental” overhaul. And John Edwards criticizes the law as emphasizing testing over teaching. “You don’t make a hog fatter by weighing it,” he said recently while campaigning in Iowa.
This was to be the year that Congress renewed the law that has reshaped the nation’s educational landscape by requiring public schools to bring every child to reading and math proficiency by 2014. But defections from both the right and the left killed the effort.
Now, as lawmakers say they will try again, the unceasing criticism of the law by Democratic presidential contenders and the teachers’ unions that are important to them promises to make the effort even more treacherous next year.
“No Child Left Behind may be the most negative brand in America,” said Representative George Miller of California, the Democratic chairman of the House
...Republican lawmakers...say the law intrudes on states’ rights, and...Democrats, ...say it labels schools as failing but does too little to help them improve...
...Even though the candidates hedge their criticism of the law with statements supporting accountability, it is hard to imagine their accepting revisions that fall short of a thorough overhaul — and that could be difficult for Mr. Bush to stomach, said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Even Mr. Bush’s catchy name for the law is likely to disappear in any rewrite, he said.
“I can’t imagine that Democrats could write a bill that would satisfy their caucus but not be vetoed by President Bush, at least in the current environment,” Mr. Petrilli said.