16 November 2008

The Joys of Zero-Tolerance and No Child Left Behind

One thing certain about zero-tolerance policies: their inflexibility may well render them useless, or at the very least diminish their effectiveness in addressing their intended target. No Child Left Behind is a fine example of this.

A group or researchers at the University of California at Riverdale looked at when NCLB's rising proficiency standards for reading and math would cause crisis in public schools. Under NCLB, 100% of students must meet proficiency standards by 2014; in that year, NCLB becomes a zero-tolerance policy.

According to the UCR researchers: "Even using the most optimistic model, the analysis found that nearly 100 percent of California elementary schools failed to meet [adequate yearly progress] by 2014. In fact, average proficiency in English Language Arts fell short of AYP by the year 2011, and math proficiency fell short by 2012."

No surprise there. The only way to reach 100% proficiency would be to lower the bar to the lowest common denominator. What makes that logic truly baffling is that because students are actual human beings - and therefore vary in ability, motivation, and background knowledge - the lowest common denominator proficiency standard for each locality would vary from year to year, from school to school, and from district to district. The students would be "driving the bus" so to speak. In a way, they already do.

But NCLB - or at least the prognostication of every school failing to meet its lofty goals - is a way to reach a sort of equality. Equality of failure for the schools, equality of less-than-mediocrity for the students, and an equal dimming of the future for the nation. And really, that's what NCLB is about. Equality over opportunity. Is that the American way?

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