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NCLB: Mission Accomplished

August 21, 2014

When NCLB passed, I remember reading what I thought at the time was an especially cynical column suggesting that the intent of the bill from the conservative perspective was to undermine the public’s support for public education by devising a rating system that would demonstrate how poorly American schools were doing. I thought that was cynical until I saw the rating system itself, which WAS clearly designed to make virtually all schools by defining a school as “failing” if it failed to meet unrealistically high growth goals for any sub-group of students. Thus, a high performing school that had a single grade level cohort of, say, 10 special education students who failed to “grow” as measured by standardized test results was deemed to be a “failing” school. It was no surprise, then, that as time went on more and more schools were defined as “failing”, and it was even less of a surprise that public education critics used these results to repeatedly bludgeon public schools… and not at all surprising to see that while NCLB has not resulted in ANY substantial improvement in NAEP scores it has succeeded in one are: the erosion of public support for schools.

Diane Ravitch’s post on the Phi Delta Kappa annual poll on public education included these tidbits:

Local public schools get high marks from public school parents at the same time that American public education gets low marks. This seeming paradox shows the success of the privatizers’ relentless attacks on public education over the past decade. For years, the public has heard Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, and other supporters of privatization decry American public education as “broken,” “obsolete,” “failing.” Their message has gotten through. Only 17% of the public gives American education an A or a B.

At the same time, however, 67% of public school parents give an A or B to the public school their oldest child attends.

The parents have always given higher grades to their schools than the general public, but the erosion of support from the general public was made clear after I googled PDK surveys and found an article from the North Carolina DOE providing an overview of the results of the 2000 survey, the las survey before the advent of NCLB. Here are it’s findings on public support for schools:

Public support for public schools is at an all-time high. For the first time in the 33-year history of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, a majority of respondents gave their schools either an A or B. Fifty-one percent of all those surveyed rated their schools an A or B with the figure climbing to 62 percent for public school parents and to 68 percent when these same parents were asked to grade the school their oldest child attends. On the 2000 Carolina Poll, 52 percent of North Carolinians said they would give the public schools in their communities a grade of A or B.

To drive the point home: there has been NO change whatsoever in terms of parent’s assessments of their child’s school but a precipitous decline in terms of the public’s assessment of public education. The cynics were right: Edward Kennedy and the Democrats who signed on to NCLB were duped and the public’s support for “government schools” is at an all time low 13 years after it was at an all time high…. and nothing’s changed in terms of the results. Mission accomplished.

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