I’ve had a virtual gumbo of thoughts simmering this week, but this news piece provided the shrimp, if you will. I’m fired up for Fred Thompson for many reasons, but this one really pleases me. It goes back to the basic Republican philosophy of "the government closest to the people is the best."
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The side effects being caused by the penalties for failing to meet ever-increasing standards are showing up in ways that most people wouldn’t have imagined. For example, if Podunk School System expels Bubba for drinking moonshine in the locker room, then he won’t graduate and they might miss the ever-increasing graduation rate standard.
But they can’t take any more of Bubba’s nonsense, and have to do something. So, they call Bubba’s folks into the office, and the conversation goes something like this:
Principal: "Now we just can’t tolerate stuff like that going on in our school; moonshine’s a Zero-tolerance offense. So, there’s going to have to be some serious consequences for this mess… unless maybe you folks put Bubba in school over across the county line. You can pay tuition and send him there, or you can move and send him for free."
Ma Bubba: "They’ll still take him over there, even though he’s in trouble here?"
Principal: "Well no, not if he gets expelled. But it’ll take us a week or so to do the paperwork on that, so if he were to go over there and enroll, say, tomorrow, then we technically wouldn’t have any record of disciplinary action against him.
So Bubba’s folks mosey on across the county line and enroll Bubba in a new school. The new school calls back to Podunk County to get his records, and asks if he has any behavioral issues. "Not that we know of" is the response from the Podunk County Principal, who then chuckles all the way to the lunchroom, knowing that he’s rid the school of its biggest troublemaker but hasn’t taken a ding on the graduation rate since he can document that Bubba enrolled in another school.
Don’t kid yourself; it’s already happening.
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The graduation rate bit of NCLB is one that needs to be clearly understood, for "graduation" in NCLB doesn’t really mean graduation; it means graduation in precisely four years plus a summer (if needed) with a regular diploma.
So, a developmentally disabled child who simply cannot — will not ever — perform up to the standards required to pass the gateway exams and graduate with a regular diploma, simply counts as a dropout. Even if he or she stays in school until age 21 (as the law allows), works hard, and earns a special ed diploma, he or she is still a dropout on the NCLB scorecard.
And it’s the schools’ fault, of course, because everyone knows that every child is the same — each capable of the same mastery in the same time frame. There’s no such thing as mental retardation, after all.
Equally tragic is that a student who just screws up for one year, is denied the chance to repeat a year in high school (getting back on track academically) because he would count as a "dropout," even though he might graduate with honors (given that extra year) and go on to college fully-prepared.
The other thing that befuddles me is that a GED doesn’t count. If it doesn’t count, why do we have one at all? The answer, of course, is that there needs to be some avenue to demonstrate basic competence for those people who — for whatever reason — don’t get enough credits in high school. When a student moves into a district at age 17 with only five high school credits, it’s just not possible to earn all the credits needed in the one remaining year. But, of course, it’s the district he moves into that will suffer a hit to their graduation rate, not the school that failed him to begin with.
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That’s a lot of bellyaching over one pot of educational gumbo, I know. Believe it or not, I am very much in favor of standardized testing and accountability for results. I believe we have an obligation to provide students with the knowledge and skills to push the limits of their potential — whatever that potential may be.
Success for some will be a PhD and a brilliant research career; for some it may be certification as a plumber, and for others, simply the ability to dress themselves each morning. People are not born with equal gifts and abilities. To try and force all into the same mold is a gross disservice to all.
I like Thompson’s approach: get the federal government out of the way and let states and local governments do what we need to do for our students.