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Learning at its Best

The Lack of a Revolt Against NCLB

Hi all,

I’ve been thinking about methods of resistance to the negative effects of NCLB and have wondered why, in the age of anti-incumbancy and conservative state rejection of federal stimulus money, why we haven’t had some innovative social configurations providing a calculated, rational, evaluative revolt against NCLB.

By my understanding of the law, it exchanges federal education dollars in return for states to come up with a standardized performance indicator (test) that is administered yearly in schools, and that there must be significant consequences –including administrative firing, teacher replacement, funding drops — tied to the outcome of those tests.  Because the federal government does not have jurisdiction over education (the reason they can’t mandate the test themselves), all of this is tied to the federal dollars that a district receives.  Last I checked, the actual average amount of federal dollars that are funding real, living schools has dropped from about 13% in the Clinton era to about 7% through Bush II and to the present.  Some of that is tied to other initiatives (like ADA) that would be legally required to maintain funding.

So it strikes me that there are many avenues for creative leadership:

Statewide Revolt

A strong, brash, well liked, mavericky governor (perhaps with greater political ambitions) holds a press conference and declares that the NCLB legislation, while well meaning, cripples our educational system and deincentivizes real learning.  The state will reject the NCLB guidelines and will increase state funding for education by roughly the amount lost by the state.

A truly innovative state leadership would, perhaps, merge together multiple interests: provide some methods of accountability that result in providing professional development, leadership workshops, or student services based on need.  It could offer a series of statewide grants for participation in different assessment models or voluntary changes in formal structure and accompanying research to get a good sense on the effects of the changes.  Thus, even public schools could elect to move towards a participatory, inquiry-based, or standards/classical model and provide public school choice to locals.

District Revolt

I am not sure of how the state laws that accept NCLB are worded, but I’d imagine some of them limit the NCLB performance indicators to the relatively small amount of federal dollars that are provided directly to the school.  I would imagine a district could then opt out of the state standardized test and forgo the federal dollars, making it up in other ways from the local budget or possibly with some help from innovative educational foundations.  They would probably need to have a form of visible assessment to provide leverage in the public forum, but I think the public sentiment has recently come a lot closer to the “Multiple choice tests don’t really evaluate that much” viewpoint, and a district test that is demonstrably more higher-order could stave off the pro-assessment critics and provide additional support within the district.

Of course, given the current financial crises, few locales have the budgetary flexibility to increase their share to make up for lost federal dollars, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder why it didn’t happen somewhere in the past, and whether or not there is potential for it to happen in the future


8 thoughts on “The Lack of a Revolt Against NCLB

  1. The reason nothing has happened is because states and school districts have their hands tied. Connecticut just lost it’s suit to opt out. The ONLY people at this point who can make it all go away are parents who just stand up and say, “My child is not going to take the test.” The law requires that states test 95% of students. If just 10% of parents say no, then the sample size changes and all the metrics of measurements are invalid. And there is nothing in the law that says that parents or children are subject to any punishments. The only punishment is that a school which fails to meet a 95% participation rate will fail to make AYP. Oh No. That’s how they keep us all cooperating.

    But we don’t have to. We actually have the power to make it stop.

    Posted by Michele Gray | March 12, 2011, 3:43 pm
  2. This is a interesting idea to tackle…. Students and Parents are the way to go I think! Have you heard of the Bartleby project.

    It seems like it need some more media attention…..

    Look to IDEA @ also for a student action kit that will be released next week.

    Maybe we can start giving voice to this issue on the Cooperative Catalyst and start putting up stories and action towards this…. can we create our own action kit….

    Names of people to write…. How to opt out, the facts about the test… foundations that support removing the test, articles and such that explain to parents and students why they should opt out….etc…

    I think it is worth looking in to.


    Posted by dloitz | March 12, 2011, 5:15 pm
  3. Parents could be instrumental in challenging NCLB, but the game is just as rigged for them as it is for all of us. There are costs involved in opting out of the system, and while we can choose to pay them, there are powerful disincentives and hardships in place to discourage parents from challenging the status quo and all the credits and money tied up in it.

    For example, in Virginia, to get a high school credit for a course required for a diploma, you must pass an associated SOL. A parent can take on the work of homeschooling a child to opt out of a testing, but that alternative is a hardship for parents. Private school is another hardship. Not enough people can vote with their feet to impact the system this way, and their dollars go to local, state, and federal taxes regardless.

    If a parent directs a student to resist testing, schools are not set up to honor that request well. Where do refusers go while other kids test? What if other kids follow along without parent permission? A test that is refused might be labeled an anomaly, and the kid might be asked to take a re-test or be made to sit in the same place all day throughout a multi-week testing window until he or she takes the test or the window closes. I can’t imagine a school doing this to a child, but the system is set up to allow for it.

    I’m all for resisting the tests, but for me it’s difficult to ask students and parents to bear the cost of doing so.

    It’s also hard to ask colleagues to do so given their contractual obligations.

    Really, local school boards need to make a stand and get off the bandwagon of high-stakes testing. Board members, too, would have to pay a high cost to do so – testing data is the shorthand board members use to oversee their schools’ health. To really know what’s going and what is possible in their schools, board members would have to take leave from work or find new ways to be educated and briefed by their superintendents on the work of their schools. They’d have to spend even more time educating an angry electorate about how schools should be measured during a time in which they’ve been elected to count the beans really well.

    We need individuals inside public education – from every stakeholder group – to speak out as loudly as possible without losing their voices from burnout or job loss. We need an electorate invested in local control and angry not about schools’ test scores, but about the waste of tax dollars paid to test vendors. We need school boards elected with mandates for change, not just cuts.

    This is a huge problem; I am as frustrated and impatient as anyone about it. I say we all start with ourselves, push until we’re told, “No,” ask publicly why we’re told, “No,” publish the answers we get, and get to work on helping our school boards see and articulate possibilities for new kinds of public schools and education.

    I think the other alternative is to find funding for amazing community and project-based, wrap-around tuition-free independent schools designed to compete with public schools head-on in order to pressure public schools to change more rapidly than they are meant to.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 12, 2011, 5:23 pm
  4. What about the Save Our Schools March? True, it’s more of a symbolic gesture than an actual revolt. What about parents refusing to let their kids take the state tests? I seriously considered that one this year, but I am at a new school and it’s already been “brought to my attention” that my negative comments about the state test were not appreciated, so I figured I’d be treading on really thin ice.

    Posted by MamaTeacher | March 12, 2011, 5:41 pm
  5. Chad, I have started with myself. My two kids have not taken the WKCE in Wisconsin for six years. I understand what you’re saying about the difficulty it may pose to children to stand up and opt out, but I have spoken with my kids about the reasons I believe they won’t be taking the tests. My kids have shared with me their frustrations with missing what they feel are the best educational parts of school like project work and group activities in place of test prep – so they get it!

    As far as schools being set up to honor my request to opt out, my kid’s school has learned that as a parent I do have a lot of say on how my kids should be accommodated. Every year I hand deliver a letter to the school principals, district administrator and the school board chair stating my reasons for opting out and my expectations of what the kids should be doing instead of testing. I request that the kids be allowed to go to the library and read during testing. One year when there was a new principal at the elementary school my youngest came home the first day of testing and said he had been told to go to the office and do worksheets during testing. After a very direct phone conversation that evening I explained to the principal my reasons for opting out and how my distaste for NCLB testing was only slightly greater than my disdain for worksheets. I explained that I felt that reading (or quite frankly almost anything else) would be better than taking the tests. The next day he was in the library reading.

    This past year my oldest was in middle school and they test every morning at random times for a week. So rather than have him missing random times I just had him stay home until after lunch everyday. I figure I’d rather have him at home watching T.V. or playing video games than testing. I reality he read and caught up on homework (another issue I have with most schools, but that’s for another time).

    As a teacher I have had this testing discussion with other teachers. At every conference or training I go to I ask other teachers if they have their own children take the tests? The majority of them say they would like to, but they don’t want to cause waves. Sometimes I feel like Luke Skywalker talking to Han Solo before the attack on the first Death Star. Luke is all jazzed to destroy the evil empire and Han tells Luke he’s collected his money, it’s not his fight and he moving on. The look of disappointment Luke gives Han is so sad, doesn’t Han realize the empire just blew up an entire planet? Don’t teachers/parents realize these tests are harmful to kids. They can be stopped if we all just stand together and let all the players know what is at stake.

    Posted by Peter Wieczorek | March 13, 2011, 12:00 am
    • Thanks so much for your efforts, Peter – I appreciate your modeling so much – I hope my comment was taken as the think-aloud it was meant to be. I meant no criticism of your comment at all, I just meant to use it as a launch pad for more thinking.

      Can you describe or share your children’s reactions to those conversation about testing? The Coöp, as a whole, is very interested in hearing student voices regarding matters like these.

      If only more school boards would come back around to help each Spring in kickin’ space corvettes.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 13, 2011, 7:41 am
  6. Just slap the feds with a breach of contract suit and make them hold up their end.

    Posted by Terry C Elliott | March 13, 2011, 8:35 am
  7. Chad

    No criticism taken. I just wanted to get me experience out there so others could see that it can be done. I think after six years of not testing my oldest sees the absurdity of standardized testing. In the words of a fourteen year old “They’re just stupid. They don’t even test you on the things you are learning about in class. How is filling in bubbles teaching you anything?” My eleven year old actually loves the testing week, but not for the reasons you’d think. During testing week everyone at school gets “free” breakfast and snack during the day. For him it’s the greatest getting extra food everyday even though he eats at home every morning before school. For me it’s kind of sad that were only concerned that kids are getting enough to eat during testing week.

    The thing that still gets me after all these years of not having the kids test is how few others have ever followed my lead. I live in a small community, about 1000 people, so word travels fast about what’s going on. One of the first years I pulled the kids out one other family called me and asked what I was doing. I explained my feelings about the harmfulness of standardized testing and the over reach by the federal government and the family actually pull two of their kids out of testing that one year. Those were the only two who have ever opted out. My kids tell me that at first their classmates asked why they got to get out of the tests, but after a year or two it became the norm and no one questioned it anymore.

    To your point about opting out being difficult for parents, I agree that finding that sweet spot of standing on principle versus being political is a fine line. I know I could be more political about testing and I could rally parents against them, but I have to remember I live in this community. If I organize a boycott does it affect my neighbors job? So for now my strategy is to reduce the harm to my own children and to work behind the scenes trying to educate the administers and board members (I have even run unsuccessfully for the school board twice).

    To others I say fight the good fight anyway you can – just don’t remain silent.

    Posted by Peter Wieczorek | March 13, 2011, 10:26 am

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