September 2007

Adjusting NCLB

The Washington Post reports on proposed revisions to No Child Left Behind, the sweeping education reform initiative that was the hallmark of GW Bush’s first term.

NCLB brought to the forefront some of the closet issues in education, but as with many federal reforms of largely local initiatives, there are some problems.  Among those "closet issues" was the ability to mask the underperformance of certain demographic groups behind the overall test scores of the student body as a whole; however, the weakness in the legislation as originally passed is that states were allowed to define the size of sub-groups.

In addition, Miller proposed strengthening a rule that requires test scores to be reported separately for groups of students identified by ethnicity, race, family income and other factors. Currently, Maryland reports separate scores for groups in a given school if there are at least five students in the demographic category. D.C. schools report scores from all groups with at least 40 students in a given school, and Virginia sets the threshold at 50 students.

The proposal would require scores to be reported — and achievement raised — for all demographic groups with at least 30 students in a school. That could make it harder for Virginia and D.C. schools to reach academic targets.

Having a consistent subgroup size will at least ensure some equity in comparing one state’s progress to that of another.  That said, it’s inevitable that all states will eventually be doomed to failure under the current testing method, as human beings just aren’t 100% alike in our capacity to learn.  In particular, students who don’t speak English — the language of instruction and testing — and students with learning disabilities, may never meet the proficiency goals.

Another area that needs some work is the graduation rate standard:

Miller’s draft also puts new emphasis on high school dropouts, proposing resources to help schools with the lowest graduation rates have "data-driven decision making, improved curriculum and instruction, personalization of the school environment, staff collaboration and professional development and individualized student supports," according to a summary of the plan.

The graduation rate is defined as the percentage of students who graduate in four years.  Unfortunately, that has created an adverse side effect that is contrary to the best interest of some students.  Take, for example, a high school freshman who blows 9th grade in a big way.  Not failing, mind you, but not learning much, putting forth only the effort required to scrape by.  At the end of the year, the parents and student have a serious heart-to-heart, and both agree that repeating 9th grade would be in the student’s best interest.

So, they approach the school, which denies the request out of hand.  Why?  Because if they allowed it, then the student would take five years to graduate (even though it would be an extra year well spent), and the school would take a hit on their graduation rate.

One student can cause a school to miss the mark; it happened right here in Oak Ridge.  Not because of the aforementioned scenario, but due to a student who enrolled as a transfer but never actually attended a single class.

NCLB is a noble goal, but remains unworkable as written.  I hope that the tweaks are effective.

I know a secret

Several years (ok, nearly a decade) ago, one of my former co-workers wrote a book that gave away the secret back way to Dollywood.  That "back way" saved us hours of sitting in traffic when the kids were young, but now, suffice it to say that it’s been widened to four or six lanes, is dotted with mega shopping centers, and is now no good whatsoever as a shortcut to anywhere.

We spent the weekend camping in Pigeon Forge, but didn’t have to navigate the bumper-to-bumper mess — not on Friday morning, when HWTFM and I towed the camper up to look for a spot (Reservations? Who plans that far in advance??), nor on Friday evening when we returned to pick up the kids after school.  We were foolish enough to venture out onto the Parkway once on Saturday, but opted for the bypass around Gatlinburg, negotiating only minor traffic headaches into the park.

Clingman’s Dome proved to be the ideal picnic spot for Saturday afternoon; it was raining in some places and sunny in others, but perched atop the state line we were above the weather — and the heat.

On Sunday, we stopped by Toobin ‘n Groovin to rent rafting tubes for the day, and spent the day on the river.  Dog didn’t get a tube, but is quite the competent swimmer and proved more than able to keep up.  At one point, he swam across a deep stretch pulling three tubes — HTWFM and the two youngest daughters.

For about $35, it was a full day’s fun.  By evening, we all slept exceptionally well.  It was a tough call to not drive back into Knoxville for Boomsday, but we ended up settling for watching it on TV.

So, the secret:  it’s possible to get from Chapman Highway into the heart of Pigeon Forge without ever once venturing into the traffic snarls of Sevierville or Pigeon Forge.  Yup, that sweet little back road took us right to the doorstep of our campground!  Another branch of back roads leads to Wears Valley — beyond the congestion which peaks from Kroger back to the Parkway — whereupon there’s yet another back entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since I carefully recorded all the road names and landmarks, I could post the directions or even a map, but I still remember what happened to my shortcut of old once Randall’s book came out.  So I won’t post it here or anywhere else. However, if anyone’s interested in making the trek with us on another fine Fall weekend, I’ll be glad to share with a select few, provided that you’re sworn to secrecy and will never, ever publish the directions or map.

We navigated Pigeon Forge and the Smokies over Labor Day weekend without the traffic.  How much sweeter can it get?

Keeping Cool

Gamma and Delta enjoyed keeping their cool in the Little River. Dog found it relaxing, too.

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