September 13, 2009

Greg Palast's new war

Someone suggested at a meeting a couple of years to sic Greg Palast on BloomKlein and let him do what he does best: connect the dots.

I'm glad to have been alerted now to his Sept. 6th post on "No Child's Behind Left," where he turns his attention to educational malpractice American-style.

Palast's remarks on Title I caught my attention, because when they told us at a faculty meeting last June that all NYC schools were now going to be classified as Title I schools, I couldn't see why. I thought Title I meant low-income, and some schools in the city don't fall into that category.

In fact, the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) that set up Title I funding in 1965, and re-authorized it every five years up until NCLB (the 2001 re-enacted version), was designed to get some extra money out to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Federal guidelines allow school boards to set that limit between 35% and 75%. NYC had been setting it at 40%, but it's now been lowered, and now the
whole system gets to be Title I.

As I say, I didn't understand why the whole city was going Title I, but here's the dots Palast connects for me:
In this flat, tilted new world, we have to adopt the methods used by emperors of Confucian China: Test for the best, cull the rest.

Of course, not everyone takes the same test. Only "Title 1" schools must test students: working class and poor schools. The wealthiest suburban districts are exempt and all schools where students wear designer blazers. It's true that our President took a test to get into Yale. It had one question: "Was your grandfather, Prescott Bush, a Yale Trustee?" His answer, "Yes," gave him a perfect score. No Child Left offers no "options" for those with the test score Mark of Cain — no opportunities, no hope, no plan, no funding. Rather, it is the new social Darwinism, the marketplace jungle brought into the classroom. This is educational eugenics: Identify the nation's loser class early on. Trap them, then train them cheap. Someone has to care for the privileged. No society can have winners without lots and lots of losers.

And so we have No Child Left Behind — to provide the new worker drones that will clean the toilets at the Yale Alumni Club, punch the cash registers color-coded for illiterates, and pamper the winner class on the higher floors of the new economic order.
To clarify a bit (though the people who read this post probably wouldn't need any clarification at all), NCLB requires annual standardized testing to all students, but those who get Title I funding must make Adequate Yearly Progress. And here's a very clear definition of AYP (underlining mine):
Every state education agency is required to determine which schools do not meet AYP every year. However, a specific designation by the U.S. Department of Education called "Federal school improvement status" applies only to schools that receive Title I funds. State education agencies are required to determine what larger goals are required of every school as they fail to perform annually.

Title I schools that do not meet AYP for two consecutive years are placed in "School Improvement Status" and must offer alternative school attendance opportunities to students within their schools. If these same schools do not make AYP for three consecutive years, they must offer both alternative school attendance opportunities and opportunities for students to increase their learning outside of school time. If those schools miss AYP for a fourth consecutive year, they are designated as being in "Corrective Action" and must choose among strategies outlined by NCLB. A fifth year of missing AYP results in restructuring planning year when the school is shut down, and then a sixth year of missing AYP requires that the restructuring plan be implemented.

NCLB restructuring options include:
• Chartering: Closing and reopening as a public charter school.
• Reconstitution: Replacing school staff, including the principal, relevant to the failure in the school.
• Contracting: contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.
• State takeovers: turning the school operations over to the state education agency.
• Any Other: engaging in another form of major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms.
The option of extending NCLB-required sanctions to non-Title I schools does exist; however, there is little current research indicating the implementation of this practice.
In other words — let's not bother with chartering, reconstituting, contracting, and taking over schools in the burbs. The teachers in those schools are just fine, everyone's on task doing great. Not that I wish the heavy hand of the BushBama to come down on them like it's been happening here in NYC. It's more like I wish we had the smaller classes (that they refuse to give us) and the freedom to teach (that they refuse to allow) so we can do our job.

With school districts given the Congressional right to decide how they would set Title I eligibility, there's some question as to why the whole city — which is really a conglomeration of many towns and villages — had to all become Title I.

Part of the answer (maybe all of it) lies in that AYP business. The DoE now has free reign not only to test mercilessly, but to restructure, close schools instead of fix them, charterize, and contract out whatever bits suits them — which is what this game is all about.

NCLB hasn't been the only federal passport to EdDeform. In a press release last May 11th, the government announced that NYS was going to get a couple of billion more dollars under the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In order to receive those funds, though, the state would have to provide
assurances that it will collect, publish, analyze and act on basic information regarding the quality of classroom teachers, annual student improvements, college readiness, the effectiveness of state standards and assessments, progress on removing charter caps, and interventions in turning around underperforming schools.
The jump from getting more ed dollars to help out low-income populations (1965) to creating national standards of so-called achievement and quality
(2001 and later) is complicated and disingenuous.

Patrick McGuinn tries to capture this in his book on ed policy for the past 40 years. As he says in the introduction:
The original ESEA was narrowly targeted (to disadvantaged students), focused on inputs (providing additional resources to schools), and contained few federal mandates. In contrast, NCLB embraces a much broader scope . . . focused on outputs (measuring academic performance) . . .
A review of the book says that McGuinn argues
[NCLB] signaled the clear emergence of a new policy regime that had been building since 1988. No longer do federal policymakers simply focus on ensuring equity for disadvantaged students and monitoring policy inputs . . . Rather, McGuinn sees a fundamentally new regime that now stresses excellence for all students, backed by high-stakes accountability for results. That shift, McGuinn notes, was built by conservatives and liberals who charted a middle path while sidestepping the preferences of key interest groups in their respective coalitions.
I love those middle paths we're charting and have written about them recently (here).

Since it's not possible that all conservatives and liberals in this country are either business people looking for cheap, mildly educated labor or military commanders looking for war fodder, I am wondering what it will take for them to see that ideology without basis doesn't get our disadvantaged kids up and running.

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