No Child Left Behind burdens states with irrational expectations
Jan. 29, 2005
 By Ken Goodman
Even State Superintendent of Education Tom Horne now sees that "No Child Left Behind is not a rational system."
Each passing day is showing that it is in fact an absurd system. Here are just a few recent absurdities.
Chicago and New York schools, with all their urban problems, are being threatened by NCLB enforcers in Washington for using their own teachers to provide the tutoring the law requires to be offered in failing schools.
The feds want these districts to pay such outside companies as Sylvan Learning and Kaplan (that's right, the test prep folks) $40 to $80 an hour per pupil to provide the tutoring with tutors who are less qualified than the certified teachers.
At the other extreme, the Hawaiian Department of Education is paying a private company to fly tutors several times a week to the island of Molokai where all five schools have been labeled failing. (That's better than flying the kids back and forth.)
Big-city schools are also being ordered to offer parents the opportunity to transfer students from failing to nonfailing schools even if it makes them overcrowded.
The same rule also applies to schools in Indian and Eskimo communities that have no other schools nearby nor roads to bus them on.
Because the law requires schools and districts to disaggregate tests of all possible subgroups, including special education and second language, schools with diverse populations are more likely to be failing. And more school districts are failing than schools.
In fact, Mesa has no failing schools, but the district is failing because no school has many minority kids, although the district has enough collectively, and one group failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standard.
The ultimate absurdity, and the one that has Horne and other state officials shaking their heads, is that every year from now until 2014, the passing levels must go up until every child in America is proficient in reading, math and science.
So this year only two schools in the Tucson area are at the point where the law requires them to be closed or drastically changed.
But 30 percent of the schools in Arizona and the whole country have failed AYP one or two years, and each year more schools will become liable to be closed, reconstituted, privatized or taken over by the state.
The people who wrote NCLB are either very stupid for not foreseeing where it would take the schools or diabolically clever for wrapping their plan to end public education as we know it in the banner of "No Child Left Behind."
● Ken Goodman is professor emeritus in the department of language, reading and culture of the College of Education at the University of Arizona.