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How Conservatives Want To Change NCLB… and it isn’t Pretty

February 13, 2015

Five representatives from different conservative think tanks put their heads together and developed a collective reaction to the repeal of NCLB advanced by Lamar Alexander and asked blogger Jay P.Greene to post it. The five conservatives–Lindsey M. Burke, Williamson Evers, Theodor Rebarber, Sandra Stotsky, and Ze’ev Wurman– found it wanting… and their reaction underscores the need for those of us in the anti-standardized test camp to be careful what we wish for. In a nutshell, the five conservatives believe “The Road to Effective Education is Paved With Local Control and Parent Power”, a statement I fully support. And. like most progressives, Burke, Evers, Rebarber, Stotsky and Wurman seek to move decision-making away from “…a large and ever-growing federal bureaucracy — far from the schools most students attend” and to “move authority back to local communities and the state laboratories of democracy where it belongs”. The five conservatives also assert “the reauthorization should return to the previous widely accepted idea that high schools should prepare young people for American citizenship and to fulfill their individual potential as they see fit“. Again, this sentiment resonates with me… BUT…

Burke, Evers, Rebarber, Stotsky and Wurman define parent power as vouchers, recommend a return to the tracking system of yore for high school students, and recommend that state-level accountability be disentangled from any national standards whatsoever. Their rebuttal to Lamar Alexander’s ideas about the reauthorization are chilling in respect to the latter point:

With specific regard to the proposal put forward by Sen. Lamar Alexander, entitled the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 (a title problematic in and of itself as it continues the notion that high schools are little more than college-prep or career factories), the proposal includes language that runs counter to the goal of restoring state and local control of education. It includes, for example, an assurance that states have “state standards aligned with entrance requirements, without the need for academic remediation, for an institution of higher education in the State.” This assurance needs to be eliminated.

While college is not for everyone, it is hard to imagine that their previously stated goal to “prepare young people for American citizenship and to fulfill their individual potential as they see fit” can be fulfilled if students are incapable of entry into some kind of self-directed learning… and Alexander’s language that each state’s standards include “…assurance that states have “state standards aligned with entrance requirements, without the need for academic remediation,  for an institution of higher education in the State” would serve as a proxy for that outcome.

A close reading of the statement issued by Burke, Evers, Rebarber, Stotsky and Wurman indicates what conservatives really want and do NOT want. They want to go back to the 1950s when schools tracked students. They want to facilitate the creation of “market based” choice in schools. They do NOT want redistributive policies of any kind. They do NOT want equal opportunity for all children. And contrary to their opposition to “high schools (that) are little more than college-prep or career factories” they do not seek to replace those high schools with schools that value liberal arts, creativity, or free thinking… that is unless the parents want their children to have those values.

I strongly oppose NCLB’s testing regimen and the RTTT’s desire to amplify those tests… but I DO believe the federal government should assure residents of each state that their children are getting a sound education that prepares them to be informed voters and affords each child an equal opportunity for economic and educational advancement. The vision of schooling advanced by Burke, Evers, Rebarber, Stotsky and Wurman, despite it’s progressive trappings, will not achieve that goal: it will set economically disadvantaged students back while lining the pockets of the investors in deregulated for profit schools.

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