Recent editorials in The Oklahoman have disparaged those not backing ACE tests and the A-F grading system. Apparently, those of us begging to differ with these complicated, federally derived accountability systems want dumbed-down standards that will graduate scores of unemployable public school students all across Oklahoma.
Not to dodge credit, but that trend likely began in 1965 when the first 31-page, 605-section Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now No Child Left Behind, or NCLB) unleashed a tidal wave of federal regulations upon local schools and established the “pay for play” scheme that keeps states towing the line. Today's NCLB is 9,601 sections and an untold number of actual printed pages.
Could unchecked growth of federal control over public education be why NAEP reading scores for 17-year olds have increased only one point since 1971 and NAEP math scores for 17-year-olds have increased only two points — over 41 years? Why have SAT scores in the verbal category dropped 25 points since 1972 and math scores increased by only one?
According to Federal Compliance Works Against Education Policy Goals, fiscal and administrative requirements “often lead to expensive and time-consuming compliance processes that are not related to improving student achievement or school success.” Lindsay Burke reports in “The Dead Hand of Education Reform” that “while the feds provided just 7 percent of education funding, they accounted for 41 percent of the paperwork burden imposed on the states.”
Santa Fe South High School in Oklahoma City personified this thesis recently when it submitted its NCLB waiver (A-F) paperwork to the state Department of Education, only to find out that while its test scores were fine, the school was placed on the failing school list because the paperwork wasn't filled out properly.
The day the A-F rules disapproval passed in a legislative committee, Gov. Mary Fallin issued a release supporting the rules and the Education Department touted its receipt of nearly $7 million in school improvement grants to be used for “turning around” schools graded as failing under the NCLB-prescribed A-F grading system.
My son, in first grade at our local public elementary, doesn't know his basic math facts or parts of speech, but has had weeklong units on global warming and rain forest ecology between his two days a week of art (his is an arts integration school). Recently, his teacher told me she just “doesn't have time to teach (math facts) to mastery” because she has to teach to the test — the results of which will soon determine whether she keeps her job.
Vilifying those of us who believe education is a local issue best dealt with by parents, district school boards and education officials rather than nameless, faceless bureaucrats at the federal or state levels won't change the fact that a layered, top-down bureaucracy will never solve governance problems like a locality.
Government closest to the people (parents) is always best because it's nearest the needs of the people (students/parents) being served and paying for the services (parents).
White is president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education.