Did Obama get his facts straight on schools?

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, talks to students during an unannounced stop in the auditorium at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo, File)

President Barack Obama declared this week that four of five public schools could be labeled as “failing” this year under the No Child Left Behind Act if Congress does not take action to rewrite the law.

“That’s an astonishing number,” he said Monday at a Virginia middle school. “We know that four out of five schools in this country aren’t failing.”

Obama’s terminology wasn’t quite right, though. There is no “failing” label in the No Child Left Behind Act. And schools that do not meet growth targets — aimed at getting 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading and science by 2014 — for one year are not subject to any intervention.

Those unable to do so for two or more consecutive years are considered “in need of improvement.” The consequences then become stiffer each year, starting with offering students an opportunity to attend another school, and escalating if the targets remain unmet.

For those schools, there’s at least the implication of failure, and that’s one reason Obama says the 2001 law needs to be changed. There are many ways for a school to fall short of its requirements, even if most of its students are improving and succeeding. A school where all but one group of students are considered proficient in reading, science and math would be lumped into the same category as schools where no students are proficient in those subjects.

The Department of Education says the number of schools that fail to meet the annual proficiency goals could jump from 37 to 82 percent this year. That would include schools that have not met the requirements for just one year.

“Everyone knew this day was coming,” Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said. “Now that it is upon us, we need to have an open, honest debate about the consequences of a law that could label four out of five schools as failing.”

Education experts interviewed by The Associated Press said it was reasonable to expect some increase as the 2014 proficiency deadline nears, but that it’s misleading for the administration to say the law would label all these schools as “failing.” They also question the magnitude of the projected jump, saying it seems too large.

“That’s a huge difference,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Over the history of NCLB, that percentage has not moved so much. So why would it suddenly more than double?”

Officials say part of the increase is driven by states that waited to raise their student proficiency levels until the final years before 2014. Loveless said there is merit to that claim, but he questioned why the Department of Education doesn’t back up its assertion by releasing a spreadsheet showing, state by state, how often and to what degree that has occurred.

“Even then, they are making assumptions about how the kids are going to score this year and they haven’t taken the test,” he said.

Patrick McGuinn, an education professor at Drew University, said it is reasonable to project an increase in schools not making adequate yearly progress, but that it would be difficult to project by how much.

He noted that schools have a safe harbor provision that allows them to be held out of the “needs improvement” category if they are showing progress, and they also could ask for waivers. Hamilton said that provision was taken into consideration in the department’s calculation.

Granting the waivers, however, would take pressure off Congress to do a full reauthorization this year. McGuinn suspects there are political purposes behind the administration’s dire tone.

“They’re really trying to highlight this and use it as a prod for Congress to get moving,” McGuinn said.

Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who served under President George W. Bush when the federal law was implemented, said she estimated half of schools would fail to meet federal standards this year, and she suggested all the conjecturing was demoralizing to educators.

“It’s obviously a political tactic,” she said.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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4 Responses to "Did Obama get his facts straight on schools?"

  1. NightWisp  March 17, 2011 at 12:41 am

    The problem with schools is not enough money or regulations. The problem is discipline. The lack of discipline brought on by too much government regulation.

    Interfering regulations hamper the ability to control” knot heads” who want to play instead of learn For whatever reason the regulations tie the hands to discipline and the undisciplined “knot head” interferes with the continuing education of the rest.

    Most times, many of the “knot heads” are very bright, but bored individuals who have fallen behind, and act inappropriately trying to cover these inefficiencies. Other time, they just want to relieve their boredom, by confronting authority as a kind of limit testing game. Just to see what they can get away with and how far before being expelled to alternative school. ( But then Mommie’s little angel would not do that .. would he?). ( Listen to Mommie Howl when he is sent).

    Other times, children with too much material possessions have no concept of , “One day I will have to work to support myself , instead of Mommie giving it all to me”. And they see no reason to learn anything other than how to play their video games, or the bare minimum to get a job. Or the ” I won’t have to work for a living” crowd. Or Mommie will take care of me from Cradle to grave. If not Mommie, Someone else will.

    Even College students will say that to professors. ” Just give me what I need to get the job”. Both groups too ignorant to not know what they do need to know. Forget education. Just give ‘em the quick study. Instant everything.
    Plop Plop Fizz Fizz. Instant diploma whiz.

    Personally myself, If had the authority, I would…

    Take the little “knot heads” who do not want to learn and who disrupt the education of the others in class and remove them to a bus which will take them out to a section of highway which needs the litter removed.

    Little Junior would be provided a sack lunch and water and a garbage sack to pick up litter ( just like highway workers who do the same). They will go out to their job every day. Learning the skills of litter picker ( for this would probably be the height of occupation along with hamburger flipper they will ever attain).

    Here he can get his ” on the job” training.
    He receives exercise in the out of doors.
    He receives food and water.
    He is doing a job which has a positive benefit for society.
    Perhaps he will learn not to litter.
    Lastly, he will not be in a classroom disrupting another child’s education.

    On the day he decides maybe a classroom and education might be of benefit to him after all, he can return to the classroom ( unless he returns to his hen house ways and again is assigned litter training.)

    Just a thought. A pipe dream maybe. My bad…

    But money and more regulation will get you nothing more than more paperwork and less time to teach.

    • Carl Nemo  March 17, 2011 at 1:18 am

      Hi NightWisp…

      A nice piece of spot-on writing concerning ‘knot heads’ within our school system and a lack of discipline due to ‘feelgood’ regs and policies… : ))

      I’m 66 and went through the Catholic school system in the 50′s to early 60′s then to higher levels through the late 60′s. I went through schools taught by Jesuits for much if not most of my education. I’m not a priest, but trained by such with fire in the belly concerning the acquisition of knowledge and its dispensation for such. Shuffle-butting was never tolerated…period! : )

      You write as if you’re a burned out, modern era high school teacher… ; )

      Carl Nemo **==

      • NightWisp  March 17, 2011 at 3:17 am

        yup
        Been there.. Done that. Have the war zone scars.
        Now own my own business.

  2. bogofree  March 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I had a self contained behavior program for years (middle and high school) and folks would ask me about it. I’d say my job was to get these kids out of the regular classroom so that teachers could teach and kids could learn. The hardest part then was making my program equally behavioral education based without becoming confinement.

    What a serious behavior problem can do to a classroom is beyond belief especially when there is little intervention by administration or parents. I feel comfortable saying it would decrease education 25% and more when others in the class decide to go “over to the dark side” and join in on the antics. I have actually seen disruptive behaviors drive teachers out of education. Behavior intervention is the single most important subject to a beginning teacher and their biggest worry especially when support is limited.

    What is depressing when teaching in an alternative setting is the long term failure rate. Few graduate with the skills – educational and social – needed to function not only in an employment situation but a social situation.

    I could go on and on and on about this issue. After awhile you get jaded and realize some just need to be cut from the herd. That’s when it’s time to get out and I did.

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