20. June 2005 · Comments Off on No Child Left Uncorrupted · Categories: Ain't That America?, Politics

I am moved by this commentary, from Joseph W. Gauld at the Portland [Maine] Press-Herald:

But our present education system is clearly failing in this responsibility. Former Bowdoin College President Rob Edwards called today’s students “ethically unformed . . . many with anxieties that have been sanctified.”

At our four Hyde Schools, all education is built on the development of character:

Curiosity: I am responsible for my learning; courage: I learn the most about myself by facing challenges; concern: I need a challenging and supportive community to develop my character; leadership: I am a leader by asking the best of myself and others; integrity: I am gifted with a unique potential and conscience is my guide in discovering it.

Once students truly internalize the power of these qualities, we find they are never willing to give them up in life, no matter what the circumstances. And their academic proficiency still sends 97 percent of both Hyde private and public school graduates to four-year colleges.

Since character is primarily developed by example, all Hyde parents and teachers undergo the same process, and they uniformly report the experience transforms their own lives. Their strong growth at Hyde reflects what our educational system had failed to do for them.

But character development is not a part of No Child Left Behind, only numerical results. The resultant corruption is staggering:

Most American schools are fairly safe, it’s true, and the overall risk of being killed in one is less than one in 1.7 million. The data show a general decline in violence in American public schools: The National Center for Education Statistics’ 2004 Indicators of School Crime and Safety shows that the crime victimization rate has been cut in half, declining from 48 violent victimizations per 1,000 students in 1992 to 24 in 2002, the last year for which there are complete statistics.

But that doesn’t mean there has been a decline at every school. Most of the violence is concentrated in a few institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1999–2000 school year 2 percent of U.S. schools (1,600) accounted for about 50 percent of serious violent incidents—and 7 percent of public schools (5,400) accounted for 75 percent of serious violent incidents. The “persistently dangerous” label exists to identify such institutions.

So why are only 26 schools in the country tagged with it?

The underreporting of dangerous schools is only a subset of a larger problem. The amount of information about schools presented to the general public is at an all-time high, but the information isn’t always useful or accurate.

Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, now three years old, parents are seeing more and more data about school performance. Each school now has to give itself an annual report card, with assessment results broken down by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and English-language proficiency. Schools also are supposed to accurately and completely report dropout rates and teacher qualifications. The quest for more and better information about school performance has been used as a justification to increase education spending at the local, state, and national levels, with the federal Department of Education alone jacking up spending to nearly $60 billion for fiscal year 2005, up more than $7 billion since 2003.

But while federal and state legislators congratulate themselves for their newfound focus on school accountability, scant attention is being paid to the quality of the data they’re using. Whether the topic is violence, test scores, or dropout rates, school officials have found myriad methods to paint a prettier picture of their performance. These distortions hide the extent of schools’ failures, deceive taxpayers about what our ever-increasing education budgets are buying, and keep kids locked in failing institutions. Meanwhile, Washington—which has set national standards requiring 100 percent of school children to reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014—has been complicit in letting states avoid sanctions by fiddling with their definitions of proficiency.

The federal government is spending billions to improve student achievement while simultaneously granting states license to game the system. As a result, schools have learned to lie with statistics.

But where is the outrage? The Left rails at the excesses of the executives of Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, et. al.. But public school officials across the nation are getting away with nothing more than a promise to “do better next time” – if that. And the children of our nation are being cheated on a scale that makes the employees, stockholders, and pensioners of these companies look little more than slighted.

I want to see some district superintendents, state secretaries of education, and the like, doing the “perp walk.”

Comments closed.