Matt Yglesias has a smart post about how some people are too quick to succumb to paranoid interpretation of NCLB–that the 100 percent proficient target is a conspiracy to destroy public education. As he rightly points out, it’s a strange anti-public education conspiracy that counts Ted Kennedy and George Miller as enthusiastic members, but excludes organizations like the Cato Institute that actually do want to destroy public education, yet hate NCLB.
It’s worth noting for the record that “100 percent proficient” doesn’t mean that every student has to score 100 percent on the state test. It means that every student needs to pass the state test, which in some cases can mean only getting 60 percent of the questions right, or fewer.
Some of Matt’s commenters draw the Iraq resolution analogy–Democrats got snookered by the Bush Administration then, this is no different. But this ignores the fact that (A) Kennedy and Miller didn’t just vote for NCLB, they wrote many parts of the law, and (B) Unlike the Iraq resolution, Kennedy and Miller are still steadfast NCLB supporters today.
At The Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum, in the post to which Matt was responding, says:
the 100% goal isn’t just rhetorical. It comes with penalties. If you don’t meet the standard, you lose money, you’re officially deemed a “failing school,” and your students are eligible to transfer to other schools. And needless to say, by 2014 there won’t be any satisfactory public schools to send them to because 99% of them won’t have met the standard.
NCLB doesn’t identify schools as “failing.” It identifies them as “in need of improvement.” Those words don’t mean the same thing, and they’re not meant to mean the same thing. And while it’s true that the in need of improvemet schools can lose money, the children in the schools never lose money, because all the money in question is used to (A) provide them with free after-school tutoring, or (B) let them transfer to another, better school. So let’s be clear about who, exactly, is being penalized here.
Moreover, the whole idea that every school in America will soon be identified as “failing” is simply contradicted by the facts. Check out, for example, this article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune about how the percent of Illinois schools making adequate progress under NCLB last year went up, from 74 to 82 percent. One can argue, as I do in the article, that these numbers are in significant part a result of states using their discretion under NCLB to monkey around with the law’s school identification mechanisms. But that’s the way things are playing out.
The point being, if the people who wrote NCLB were really trying to identify every school in America as failing, they did a pretty bad job of it. Which makes you think that maybe–just maybe–that wasn’t their intent at all.