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NCLB's Counting Problems, Textual Artifacts, And Going Nuclear

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, April 13-19.

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Considering it's the embodiment of the standards movement, the No Child Left Behind Act can sometimes seem curiously lax. Among the signature provisions of the law—one trumpeted by President Bush—is the requirement that schools report student test scores by racial subgroup. But it turns out that many schools have been able to elude that inconvenience. A loophole in NCLB lets them disregard the scores of racial groups that are considered too small to be statistically significant—a measurement determined by state education leaders. Nearly two dozen states have been granted widely varying group-exemption thresholds by the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, the test scores of 1.9 million students nationwide—including those of roughly 10 percent of Hispanics and blacks students—aren't being broken out by race. "It's terrible," said an African American high school student in New York City whose scores were excluded. "We're part of America. We make up America, too. We should be counted as part of America."

Unfortunately, textbook inadequacies are also a part of America. A Chicago Tribune investigation has found that, in Illinois, nearly 80 percent of the districts surveyed are using textbooks that are out-of-date, or at least eight years old. Twenty-two percent of the districts are working with books that are at least 15 years old. The report attributes the problem in part to overreliance on unstable local funding for book purchases. In any case, it hasn't been easy on teachers. Examples of tomes currently in play include a high school contemporary history text that ends amid the Reagan administration and an elementary-level science book that doesn't account for more than 40 of Jupiter's moons. The Tribune also found that many schools were systematically relying on duct tape and rubber bands to hold aging books together. "Duct tape is our friend; it's our Band-Aid," admitted one district superintendent.

The text of a poem was the subject of a school-based legal battle in Reno, Nevada. A federal judge there granted 9th grader Jacob Behymer-Smith permission to recite W.H. Auden's "The More Loving One" at the state's upcoming poetry-reading competition, over the protestations of his own school. Officials at Coral Academy of Science, a Reno charter school serving grades 6-9, wanted to keep Behymer-Smith from reading the poem because it includes the words "hell" and "damn." The judge, however, wasn't moved by their concerns. He ruled that, in the context of the reading, "the language sought to be censured cannot even remotely cause a disruption of the educational mission." Behymer-Smith, who had chosen the poem from a list provided by the National Endowment of the Arts, sounded bewildered by the ordeal. "It was really stressful," he said. "I didn't know what poem to practice. I'm only 14 years old, and I had to go and sit on that witness stand."

Some parents of kids at Worthington Elementary School, in Inglewood, California, are more than bewildered by the principal's decision to impose a high-level lockdown during the region's student walkouts protesting immigration legislation. Restrictions were so severe that some Worthington students, who did not participate in the walkouts, were prohibited from accessing restrooms, and had to use buckets placed in classrooms instead. If such a precaution seems extreme, that's because it was. The principal, Angie Marquez, had apparently misread the district's handbook and ordered the wrong kind of lockdown. Inglewood district officials say it was an honest mistake. "When there's a nuclear attack, that's when the buckets are used," affirmed Tim Brown, district director of operations.

Speaking of honest mistakes, a charter school in Ogden, Utah, thought it had hit the jackpot when it booked Jon Stewart to appear at its annual fund-raiser gala. The DaVinci Academy sold 700 tickets at $50 a pop for the April 20 event. Then school officials discovered that they had landed not Jon Stewart of The Daily Show but Jon A. Stewart, a part-time professional wrestler and former motivational speaker from Chicago. "I thought it was a little elaborate for me," admitted the wrestler, who insists he had asked the school whether they had the right person. The school canceled the Jon Stewart appearance, and plans to showcase local performing groups instead. "It's not about the celebrities," said Debbie Legge, president of the school's board of directors. "It's about kids and helping them get a good education." Which makes you wonder why they didn't just let Jon A. Stewart do his thing.

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