As a whole, the school improvement industry has tended to respond to potential changes in a reauthorized No Child Left Behind that threaten sales from a position of thinly veiled self interest. What passes for a public policy argument is that the kids who use their services will lose a benefit. Whether that argument is made sincerely or cynically, it simply misses the larger point in opposition to the law as it now stands – that the idea of one hundred percent student proficiency in core subjects by 2014 amounts to an impossible dream, and an unrealistic basis for public policy.
NCLB’s bedrock principle is “100/2014.” Unless the “impossibility argument” is addressed head on, the entire market for school improvement services is vulnerable to death by a thousand amendments.
What should the industry be saying?
There are three reasons the 100/2014 goal might be impossible:
• The goal lacks fundamental realism. In some existential, absolute sense, no matter where the bar for proficiency is set, some students won’t pass.
• Our system of pubic education lacks the will required. The protection of other institutional values is more important than making AYP through 2014.
• Schools lack the capacity they need. Educators haven’t been given the wherewithal to bring students up to minimal standards
Realism. Today’s debate centers on the goal’s grounding in fundamental reality. And if we use a proficiency standard comparable to other highly developed economies, I doubt every student in America will pass. But many states standards fall well below our international economic rivals, and even our own benchmark, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
It is ironic that in 2007 people are arguing the 100/2014 is an impossible dream. I would have a great deal more sympathy if this was 2012 and schools were meeting a 90% target. What many opponents of the goal really mean is that they don’t think schools can’t meet today’s 60, 70, or 80% AYP target. An alarming number of schools are so far from meeting their own lower standards with African-Americans, English Language Learners and students with special needs, that is entirely unclear what requirement they could meet.
That slight of hand ought to be called out by the industry, because these opponent’s real argument implies the continuation of widespread mediocrity and a return to the days when the system turned a blind eye to the economically and socially disadvantaged.
Bottom Line: After a heart attack, a man is advised to work with a fitness coach. After failing to complete four laps around a quarter mile track, the fellow rationalizes his lackluster performance by saying “it’s impossible to run a three-minute mile.” Maybe so, but the argument isn’t relevant to the matter at hand.
Tomorrow: The role of political will in 100/2014.
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