DMI Blog

Elizabeth Hartline Green

News on NCLB

As No Child Left Behind slowly creeps towards the point where it must be reauthorized or die, we're seeing some interesting NCLB-related news.

First off, New York State announced that it added 17 schools to its list of schools that are "persistently dangerous." The persistently dangerous is a designation under NCLB; states create their own definition of what "persistently dangerous" means, but children in those schools must be allowed to leave the dangerous schools if they want.

Sounds great, right? Protecting our children from hazardous schools is surely a worthwhile goal, no doubt. New York now counts 27 persistently dangerous schools, 25 of which are in New York. And the rest of the country? Thirty schools are classified as persistently dangerous. In the entire country. So we have two options here: either New York is as dangerous as the rest of the country combined, or there's something seriously wrong with our classification system designed to protect children.

The problem with the persistently dangerous labeling system is that it relies on schools to self-report incidents. Schools then consciously do not report or mis-classify serious offenses that will get them labeled. For example, when my mom had an attempted poisoning in her fifth-grade class (a child poured board cleaner in a drink, in an attempt to--in the student's own words--try and kill someone), the administration of her school simply suspended the child for a day and switched her to another class. The incident was not reported, even to parents of children in the class. Fights, assaults, and sexual offenses are similarly overlooked across the country.

So, kudos to New York. Though any dangerous schools are unacceptable, it takes guts to take the label, in oder to better inform parents and the community of the risks children are facing.

Across the country, in our sister most-expensive-city-in-the-U.S., San Francisco, a group of parents and ed reform advocates have filed a lawsuit against the federal government about the requirement in NCLB that all states hire "highly qualified" teachers. This, again, is good in theory, but the law actually allows people in teacher training programs certified in a subject area to classify as highly qualified and teach solo before they have finished their programs, even if they have no teaching experience. In California alone there are over 10,000 uncertified "intern teachers" in charge of their own classrooms. These "intern teachers" are disproportionately located in low-income, urban schools, and parents are often not aware that their child's teacher does not have any training in teaching.

I honestly don't know what to make of this case. Alternative certification (where people go through routes other than the traditional teacher ed programs) is a tricky issue. Some programs are great, and some are little more than money-making machines. The research is sparse and extraordinarily mixed on the effects of alternative certification programs on teaching quality, but states with teacher shortages (like California) must rely on them to fill jobs. Looking at the students who are being taught by intern teachers, though, makes me feel a little jumpy about this way of teaching: 12% of poor students in California are taught by intern teachers, and only 3% of students statewide are.

Teacher quality is a huge issue, and important to address. I'm not sure that this case will really address the fundamental problems, though, even if it is successful (which seems to be unlikely). Either way, though, it's something to keep an eye on.

Elizabeth Hartline Green: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:00 AM, Aug 23, 2007 in Education
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