Some will argue that this demonstrates what we already have known for sometime that the federal standard is unachievable because the standards rise up to the unachievable level by 2014. The NCLB benchmarks have been described as a hockey stick because the achievement line rises at a steep angle which ends at a benchmark at 100 percent student proficiency by 2013-14.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has called for changes.
“While we can never abandon the goal of proficiency for all students, I continue to support efforts to create a single accountability system for California – in order to reduce confusion and still push schools to help all students improve.”
The Davis Enterprise reports in fact that Montgomery is not alone, 118 California schools has achieved the 800 point status of high achievement and yet have ended up being classified as Program Improvement schools.
For me, we reap what we sow when we try to play this game.
We all want improvement in our schools. There are many schools that need improvement. But we have become overly reliant on numbers to make that determination.
Some will argue that we can simply tweak the existing system to be more responsive to the realities of the world. We certainly can.
Others will argue this is why the federal government ought not be involved in education.
Each of those arguments certainly has some merit. From my perspective I don’t see why education is any less of a federal issue than it is a state issue. We generally educate at the local level but monies come in at the state level and standards are standards, it does not really make much sense to me that we cannot have national standards for education. I don’t see why Louisiana needs to have different education standards than California–at least for some things.
But back to Davis and the issue of Montgomery. The standards under NRLB are ridiculous and it seems likely that every school will be in violation by 2013-14. 100 percent proficiency is unachievable and unattainable. So Montgomery made progress or achieved the designated level for 19 of 21 benchmarks under NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress provisions. However, since they came up short on two of the benchmarks, the school is now in Program Improvement Status despite achieving probably in the 80th to 90th percentile.
We have lost sight of the critical problems in this district by focusing on Montgomery rather than the achievement gap. These kinds of programs do not force accountability, they enforce attention to minutae at the expense of more serious and pressing issues.
So let us indeed be realistic for a moment. NCLB amounts to no more than another unfunded mandate on the schools. We have accountability without funding. So it is perfectly okay for California to cut billions from education under NCLB but when it ends up out of compliance, what will the federal government do?
We have a nation and a state that loves putting regulations for compliance on schools, they love forcing the schools and students to take tests, but there is no commitment to giving schools the resources to actually improve standards of education.
Until we commit ourselves to the resources needed to improve our schools, test taking is a waste of time. It is a reminder of the failures of the system without any ability for us to change it. To make matters worse we spend billions on taking tests that could go into the classroom to improve those tests we take.
There are of course those who point to failing schools who will argue that when we spent more money it does not generally equate with school improvements. Money will not fix all problems by itself. However lack of money will cause more problems.
Here’s an analogy, let us suppose you own a home that is on the older side and that you need to spend a certain amount of money each year to maintain it. But no matter how much you spend, you always have more maintenance the next year. The obvious answer is to buy a new home with less maintenance costs, but given the market, that might not happen for a few years. In the meantime, if you spend more money, you will not necessarily avoid maintenance for the next year, however, if you spend less money you will have a home that is deteriorating in condition.
In many ways, many of the schools we deal with are in the same position. What we really need is a huge investment in education to rebuild the entire system, but we lack the ability to do that right now. So we are paying for maintenance which does not prevent new problems from arising. But reducing spending will necessarily lead to a deterioration of what we currently have.
Fortunately, Davis does not have these kinds of problems. We have a fairly good education system that produces fairly high achieving students. Perhaps we could do better, perhaps not. But trying to use the same standards of improvement in Davis as we do in other areas makes very little sense. Just as it equally makes very little sense to me to try to fix schools on the margins when we are failing to properly investment in the entire system.
The bottom line is that Davis is going to have to spend time and money to fix something that isn’t broken in Montgomery and we have now spent three years in DJUSD trying to bandage our fiscal woes caused by the falling statewide economy rather than trying to close the achievement gap. None of this makes a lot of sense, but unless someone steps forward and says enough, we will continue on this path indefinitely. The people who will suffer in this scenario will be the students–as always. Particularly those at risk to begin with.
—David M. Greenwald reporting