Some of our former President’s policies were clearly and obviously dumb, like the two wars that have left two countries in ruins, or his refusal to raise taxes to pay for those wars, or the laissez-faire attitude toward high finance that opened the door to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
A few of his policies looked good, at least on the surface. But it seems as though there’s a worm inside every apple. Medicare Part D helped seniors get their prescriptions, but it was unnecessarily complicated and barred the government from negotiating on drug prices; thus it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. On his watch, many standards and regulations were relaxed (or ignored), but acceptable cholesterol levels were lowered significantly; again, a giveaway to Big Pharma.
And then there was No Child Left Behind, an idea that actually brought Bush and Ted Kennedy together. But there was a time bomb hidden in the workings of NCLB:
Each year for the past 13 years, the NCLB Act has lowered the allowable percentage of students whose test results suggest they are not proficient in math or language arts. This year, that percentage became zero.
In effect, all it takes for a school to labeled as low performing is for a single student to fail to reach a score of proficient.
This, from a story published in the journalistic Dead Zone of the Saturday papers. The Mitchell Family Organ and the Freeploid both reported on what this means for Vermont schools; I’m quoting from the former.
The focus of the story is a letter written last week by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeking to explain the fact that virtually every school in the state has been labeled “low performing” by the remorseless federal standard.
Most other states took advantage of a loophole in NCLB; they got federal waivers in exchange for agreeing to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers and principals. Why didn’t Vermont do likewise?
Holcombe said Vermont did not apply for the waiver because research has shown standardized tests to be unreliable for teachers in classrooms with 15 or fewer students, which compose nearly half of the classrooms in the state.
“It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools,” Holcombe wrote.
Some other states have belatedly realized that the waiver is a bad deal, and are backing out. The problem is, NCLB sets draconian penalties for low-performing schools, potentially including the wholesale firing of school staff, the conversion of a “failing” school to a charter school, or even turning the whole thing over to the state or to a private education company.
Far from a real effort at improving education, No Child Left Behind is a real-life version of the old frog-in-a-pot-of-water meme. If you put a frog in hot water, so the story goes, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will stay put and die. If NCLB had tossed the system into a boiling pot, there would have been instant reaction. Instead, it slowly and steadily turned up the heat. Whichever option the states chose — performance or waiver — school systems are right and truly screwed.
Kudos to Secretary Holcombe for pointing out the inherent absurdity in the situation, and how the system “does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being.”
It’s just another rotting apple in the Bush-el. Worst… President… Ever.
Postscript. Let the record show that Your Two U.S. Senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted “No” on the final version of NCLB. They were two of only ten Senators to do so.