Wednesday. July 8, 2015.
Story on NPR's Morning Edition this morning about ongoing attempts in Congress to fix the No Child Left Behind Act.
Fix is my word. The headine on NPR's website says "revise".
The summary says “reauthorize”.
Passed in 2001, the education law established more standardized testing and education data collection than at any time in U.S. history. Congress is looking to reauthorize it, but roadblocks remain.
In their Q&A, reporter Juana Summers and host David Greene say "rewrite".
GREENE: So why is this rewrite happening?
SUMMERS: This rewrite's happening because No Child Left Behind hasn't done what it was supposed to do.
SUMMERS: When it started, it was supposed to close gaps in achievement between poor students and students of color and their more affluent peers. And to do that, there are these annual tests in reading and math. Critics say it's trouble. Teachers don't like that they're teaching to these tests and that it just makes students have to take too many tests to actually see results.
Whatever you call what they're up to, it appears to be trying to turn it into more of a No Child of Mine Left Behind, Your Child is Your Lookout Act, with the House's version being meaner and stingier and more unworkable than the the Senate's.
Since Republicans are behind both versions---Summers calls the Senate's bipartisan because Patty Murray is a co-sponsor and energetic advocate---spending the money that should have been spent from the beginning isn't a major factor in either version. The common factor is decreasing the amount of say in how the act is implemented away from the federal government and giving more of it to the states and local school districts.
GREENE: Well, and this rewrite sounds a little complicated because there are separate bills in the House and Senate.
SUMMERS: You're absolutely right, and it is a little bit complicated. So let's start with the Senate. There's a bipartisan push there led by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee - he's a Republican and a former education secretary - and Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat who's a former preschool teacher. Now, according to their bill, students would still have to take reading and math tests, but those tests would effectively mean less. The states, instead of the federal government, would decide how to use those tests when they measure and assess school and teacher performance. The Senate bill would also bar the federal government from setting any specific set of academic standards. Now, that is, of course, a swipe at the widely adopted standards known as the Common Core, which are a frequent punching bag of conservatives. They say the Common Core increases federal involvement in education.
GREENE: OK, so is the House bill that different from what you're talking about here in the Senate?
SUMMERS: It is different in a lot of really important ways. This is a Republican-led bill, not a bipartisan push. It would give the states more control over accountability rather than the federal government. And it also includes a provision that's a little thorny that would allow public funding to follow low-income kids to different public schools. So say a low-income student leaves a high poverty school and enrolls instead in a more affluent one. The federal funds would then go with the student. Republicans really like that idea, but Democrats and the Obama administration have said that it would starve the nation's neediest schools from federal funds that they desperately need.
Less testing and less bullying schools and teachers and students with test results, that would be good. The Common Core is problematic. It’s not the fact of there being a nationally applied high standard of what constitutes learning that’s been at issue here in New York State. It’s that it’s been applied high-handedly, with little or no input from parents, teachers, and students, and some of what’s in it is intellectually suspect and the required pedagogy seems to have been designed by people who have not only never been in a classroom but have never had any dealings with children.
But---and here I’m going to sound like my second least favorite Obama cabinet appointee, Arne Duncan, Tim Geithner being number one---on the even more local level, within school districts, what many parents are looking for is the power to prevent their kids from learning anything that might make them smarter than them or give them the knowledge to question their authority.
There are a lot of parents out there who never want to have to explain a decision or a rule or a life lesson with anything more than a “Because I say so.”
There are also a lot of parents out there who don't want to be the parents of C students but don't know how to make their kids turn off the TV, put away the cell phones, or shut down the video games and pick up a book.
Also homework interferes with sports and band.
These sorts of parents live in every state and every school district in the country but they tend to be concentrated in places that vote red. It’s not been made much of an issue yet, but every single declared Republican candidate for President except maybe Chris Christie, who probably just hasn't gotten around to cravenly and opportunistically adopting that Right Wing position yet, is anti-education. I don’t mean in their being anti-public schools and anti-teachers unions and anti-uppity college professors and anti-spending on poor people’s kids, although of course they’re all all that. I mean they don’t see the use of education beyond mere vocational training at any level, even for their own children. They send their kids to the best schools to make social contacts that will get them jobs. And, as I’ve said, politicians sing to their base. And the base's answer to George W. Bush's question, "Is our children learning?" is "They better not be."
But I don’t think that’s what’s weighing most heavily on the minds of the Republicans who control Congress, when it comes to No Child Left Behind.
GREENE: So this was a law that President Bush, you know, really pushed when he came into office. Many are seeing it as not succeeding, and there's this push to sort of rewrite it in different ways. I mean, is there something broad here that this debate is about?
SUMMERS: From where I see it, the debate is really about who gets to decide what works best in the classroom. One of the big questions here is who gets to decide how to define and fix failing schools. Republicans would like to leave that up to states, but many Democrats want to see the federal government force states to act when schools fail to meet their testing targets. And another question that's a little bit related is how much the federal government should do to make sure every student gets the resources that he or she needs to learn best. Democrats think that states need to be held accountable for providing low-income students with resources. But the GOP says that states make that decision, that the federal government shouldn't compel them. So it really is of two different questions, who gets to decide these things, and that takes us into a broader discussion about states' rights.
When they’re not using it as code for you know what, when Republicans take a stand for states rights they generally mean a state has the right to take as much federal money as their Congressman can rake their way but not to have to spend it on things and people---especially nonwhite and poor people---the feds want the money spent on. It means states reserve the right to let big businesses do whatever they want in their state even poison the air and the water and underpay and overwork employees in factories and warehouses and mines and on other job sites posing constant threat to life and limb.
Republicans have become more circumspect about it, and the press still won't call them on it, but the basis for every GOP idea for dealing with poverty is that it's the poor's fault that they're poor and it's up to individual poor people to work to work themselves out of being poor. If you do that, it's not because you tried and failed, it's because you didn't try hard enough, so again, your fault. You deserve your fate.
This even applies to children. They can be left to go hungry, to attend not just inferior schools but dangerous ones, to not see doctors when they're sick, to not see their parents because their parents have been left to work three jobs just to make enough to get by, to live in neighborhoods that are shooting galleries, because the deserving ones, the ones with ambition and virtue, will survive and triumph, having learned the right lessons about the values of hard work, free enterprise, and a can-do spirit.
This goes back to Calvinist roots of most forms of American Protestantism but you don't have to trace it back that far. In One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Kevin Kruse calls it Christian Libertarianism and recounts how in from the late 1940s and throughout the 1950 its lessons were persuasively preached by mountebanks and charlatans like Billy Graham:
[Graham] chided Democrats for wasting money on the welfare state at home and the Marshall Plan abroad. "The whole Western world is begging for more dollars," he noted that fall, but "the barrel is almost empty. When it is empty---what then?" He insisted that the poor in other nations, like those in his own, needed no government assistance. "Their greatest need is not more money, food, or even medicine; it is Christ," he said. "Give them the Gospel of love and grace first and they will clean themselves up, educate themselves, and better their economic conditions."
But there’s not really anything theological in it. It’s just human nature at its most selfish and meanest. It is now what it was way back when, an excuse not to have to care and, more important, not to have to pay.
Click on the link to read and listen to the whole story at NPR.
Also see GOP Governors Line Up to Defy Obama's New Climate Rules by Reynard Loki at AlterNet.