Tag Archives: no child left behind

Stagnant Test Scores, Ten Years Later

In spite of a decade of high stakes testing at our free public schools, our international test scores are stagnant and comfortably mediocre.


One reason is that high stakes testing is a terrible idea.

Even if it wasn’t, we use the wrong type of tests.

Even if we didn’t, we don’t have free public education.

No Child Left Behind, in spite of hopes, has not yet worked.

The plus side is our international test scores show that white and Asian students do pretty good. White Americans do as well as the Swiss. In school systems were whites and Asians or middle- and upper- classes are a large majority, we basically can experiment with ways of introducing more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses, through things like programmatic learning.

In URM (under-represented minority) and low-SES (socio-econoimc status) schools, we do really badly. There parents are very risk conscious, and basically only want baby-sitters.

But the good news is because of the “great sort,” there are less and less high-achievement-capable students in URM and low-SES schools each year (apart from immigrant communities). In URM and low-SES schools, we should castrate the ranks of teachers and administrators as quickly as possible, and find some way of putting those schools under the controls of large local employers, such as light manufacture or semi-skilled clerical work.

Instead of leaving “no child behind,” we should have a system of trade education to leave some children behind — but not far enough behind that they hurt our society or economy.

STEM and History

In an excellent post, my friend Mark observes:

Aggravating matters, even if a prospective teacher did major in history in college, fewer of their professors were full-time history instructors than ever before, meaning that even the quality of the small minority of teachers who are history majors is going into decline! NCLB scorns history as a subject, so school districts across the nation will continue to starve it. Poorer districts will fire all the social studies teachers in coming years and parcel out the history sections to unwilling English teachers in order to save the jobs that will preserve reading scores (assuming those are making AYP in the first place).

Mark is right.

As someone who loves history, this is very sad.

As someone who is concerned with having a competitive educational system, this is fine.

Economic growth does not come from knowledge of history. If it did, Britain’s liberal arts and history-based curriculum would have allowed it to maintain hegemony in Europe through the 19th and 20th century. Insteda, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are the “STEM” of economic success.


History is a sentiment. Engineering is a reality.

George Bush did America a great favor by creating No Child Left Behind, and scorning history in favor of classes that are the root of STEM. However, like all great moves the consequences of No Child Left Behind are largely invisible to the public.

If America does not wish to become a second-rate power, America must avoid the path of Britain and take up the road of Germany. America must continue to prioritize fields of knowledge that are practical, and recognize that the rest are an enjoyable possibility for those looking for leisure.

Mark concludes the part I excerpted by writing:

After that, the science teachers will start to get the axe.

Ultimately, science can be taught in an intensive, adolescent setting if reading skills exist. Humans are natural learners, but not natural readers. It is more important to teach children how to read and comprehend information than to teach them the sort of vague facts that comprise a school science curriculum. Indeed, it is more important to learn to read than to know the “scientific method,” because the scientific method is itself idealized and not particularly useful to know until one is mid-to-late career.

American schools would be well-served by ceasing to teach history entirely, putting up some photos of Washington and Lincoln and the wall, and using tha hour a day to focus on mathematics and statistics. Indeed, No Child Left Behind implicitly encourages this. Only the backward-looking state standards boards, and the sentiments of our people, keep us from doing this.

This is why we need No Child Left Behind

But Joel Castle, who is 12 and a zero, said that he did not work as hard now. “My grades are going up, and that’s not really surprising because the standards have been lowered,” he said.

via Connecticut School District That Clung to Tracking Is Letting Go – NYTimes.com.

Half Sigma works the human biodiversity angle, but the real story here is the coalition of incompetence (local politicians, teacher’s unions, leftist activists, and the rest) who are opposed to an educational system that teaches children.

No Child Left Behind is like an atom bomb on incompetence schools – it is the first step in giving us an educational system that we can be proud of. (Obviously, we do not have such a system now.)

The deprofessionalization of teaching

The theme Barry touches on is the deprofessionalization of teaching.

The same thing happened with postal masters. Formerly, working at a post office was a professional position. Workers had to know the overall logistical system of the United states, to be able to read any arbitrary address in the world, and provide the correct routing information for that address.

Zip codes ushered in deprofessionalization. Instead of having educated, intelligent, well-paid post masters, one could simply provide every post office in the country with a table that has every zip code in the country on one column, and a truck that connects to that post office in another. No thought necessary. Just look up the zip on the table, and put it in the right basket. No zip code? There’s a basket for that, too.

The advantage, of course, is that society can get away with paying a lot less for postal workers. Additionally, because there is now a “right” answer for every situation, this can be measured in a scientific manner. The post office can use industrial engineering principles, reducing the variation in outcomes while improving the average accuracy of the process.

The same thing is and will happen to education, I think. “Programmed instruction,” No Child Left Behind, and other techniques allow the deprofessionalization of education. Teachers may be given a workbook to follow, classroom rules to follow, and a “right” answer to every thing. Give every student a rugged $100 netbook loaded with Rosetta Stone-like software, hook it up to Paypal so that students get more with every right answer on a standardized test, and suddenly we really don’t need educated teachers.

Barry’s emphasis on virtue, moral work, practical wisdom, etc, is a call for the mass professionalization of the work place. This is as likely to happen in education as the public’s willingness to support professional-level salaries for teachers.

Academic inferiority, its recognition and treatment

One of the reasons that No Child Left Behind is such a wonderful program is that it forces schools to recognize the poor performance of their black and hispanic students.

Before George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act, schools sweep their failure to teach black and hispanic students under the rug. The mandatory testing and requirement for continuous improvements forces schools to come to grip with the particularly awful education that this country provides for too many black and hispanic children, and deal with it.

The compassioniate way to fix the problem is to fix education, to do the hard work to make sure that black and hispanic children are prepared to learn.

The way popular among many school bureaucrats is to deny the problem.

To wit:

Unless you believe that African-American and Latino kids are somehow, as a group, academically inferior to white kids,” Welner said, “then you have to believe there are a lot of kids in those lower-track classes who have the potential for tremendous academic success.”

The way that African-American and Latino kids are somehow, as a group, ‘academically inferior is that schoold don’t educate them. What person believes that blacks and hispanics earn graduate degrees, earn undergradate degrees, or graduate high school at the same rate of whites? Who thinks that blacks and hispanics enter the 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, or 1st grades, or kindergarten for that matter, with the same academic advantages as white children?

The context for the above quote is a story, courtesy of Half-Sigma titled “Higher learning: More middle-schoolers leapfrog into advanced classes — but are minorities being left behind?:”

For decades, high-school students have taken community-college courses to dress up their resumes and prepare for college.

Now, competitive middle-schoolers in Florida are flocking to sign up for high-school classes.

For parents and students, it’s a great chance to get ahead. And school districts have something else to brag about: seventh- and eighth-graders completing courses such as Algebra II Honors and biology that had been reserved primarily for ninth- and 10th-graders.

But the nation’s foremost scholars in middle-school education are worried the fast-growing trend is leaving minority children behind. They also question whether the practice is legal because, nationwide, it has tended to result in students being segregated by race.

In Florida, high-school-level classes at middle schools are filled mostly with white kids. That’s the case even at some schools where most of the kids are black or Hispanic, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of public records from the Florida Department of Education and school districts.

The trend has sparked a lively debate nationwide between those who say middle-school students aren’t ready to be treated like high-school students and those arguing that the brightest children shouldn’t be held back because minorities aren’t signing up for certain courses.

Some disparities in Central Florida this school year include:

*At Lee Middle School in Orlando, 93 percent of the kids who take high-school geometry and 77 percent who take Earth-Space science are white. Meanwhile, 29 percent of all Lee students are white.

Predictably, the leftists want to criminalize education, both to hold down high-performing kids and hide exposing the fact taht schools leave blacks and hispanics as the low performing kids:

Though officials at the federal Office of Civil Rights wouldn’t speculate about whether local schools have broken any rules, some of the country’s leading scholars say it could be just a matter of time before such disparities trigger an investigation.

George Bush was the greatest President for civil rights that America ever had. While other Presidents either ignored the issue or took the easy way out by puffing their chests and staging worthless shows of force, Bush recognized the crucial role that education plays. George Bush revolutionaized America’s educational system, creating the “No Child Left Behind” framework that forces schools to objective assess students and show continuous improvements.

While leftists, both in this article and elsewhere, want to make American education equally useless to everyone, those who care about our nation’s future want every student to be rigorously educated. Even if the first step in that process is recognizing that we fall short of that goal now.

Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.

Courtesy of Zenpundit, I read John S. Brown’s Learning 2.0: The Big Picture (PDF). Dr. Brown, a computer scientist, has a list of publications a mile long, and one of the pleasures of the blogosphere is having access to what such luminaries are thinking.

Dr. Brown’s note cover a lot of ground, from the distinction between explicit and tacit learning, the importance of learning communities, and the need for continuing education. However, two slides in particular strike me as especially dangerous, and public education would be better in this country if the ideas therein were banished:

First, EQ (Social / Emotional Intelligence) is a junk concept. It explains nothing beyond what you can explain with IQ (working memory capacity) and personality (the OCEAN Big 5 Model). Both personality and working memory capacity are highly heritable, and very hard to change. If we’re serious about achieving educational excellence through maximizing those traits, let’s increase the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and get serious with eugenics.

However, as the political, societal, and economic costs of that approach would be high — and the benefits far away — a more practical approach is called for. We need an educational infrastructure that can handle serious constraints on funding and the quality of teachers.

Spending v. Reading at American Public Schools

We have the outlines of a successful system in No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind sacrificed local control of schools for a system that enables scientific quality control. That is a good trade-off. Local control has given us a network of awful schools that do not do their job. Quantitatively measured standards may give us better outcomes.

What we need next is an expansion fo No Child Left Behind to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). That is, we need to go beyond what NCLB provides, and have the Department of Education begin to focus on what is tested. So when it comes to English, we need more composition and less literature. We need more Mathematics in general. In science, we need better ability to perform tasks that are required in labwork (basic analysis, measurement, falsification), and less on building a “true understanding” of the concepts involved. Geography, history, psychology, and sociology should be focused on a general ‘Social Science’ that applies scientific methods to human questions.

See also: my critique of liberal education.

No Child Left Behind: The Quantitative Revolution applied to Public Schools

Earlier, I mentioned how the Quantitative Revolution is destroying academia (both the Marxists and the intellectuals), replacing the “ivory tower” with a scientific-academic-industrial-complex. While there is much to miss in the old way, progress is clearly served by subjecting the universities to the discipline of the market and hard numbers.

Another kind of quantitative revolution is overthrowing the traditional American public school. Traditionally, American schools were a weird hybrid of cultural assimilation, industrial socialization, and leftish fads. The public schools achieved the implied ends well, normalizing immigrants to American standards (often with disastrous results), preparing a large and young workforce for the intellectual laziness of large institutions (often with disastrous results), and encouraging the most observant students to turn against our history, our country, and our values (often with disastrous results).

The man who did – and is doing – more than anyone else to change this is President George Walker Bush.

Given the weirdly Old Left hue of public schools (national culture, industrial employment, illiberal value) — cutting edge for the 1930s — it was wise not to try to save it in a recognizable form. The old rulers of schools — superintendents, unions, and elected local officials – had formed an “iron triangle” of bureaucrats, workers, and politicians who were all supportive of the status quo. Defeating them required depriving the iron triangle of most of its power, turning the rulers of the classroom into more executers of a higher will.

This is what was and is being accomplished by the No Child Left Behind Act. In place of every idea that these people ever had came quality control, numbers that could be measured. What qualities are observed this year? What about next year? Why should the national government support a school if it does not meet quality requirements?

Thus the school traditions of the past are crushed by the need for numbers, reliable numbers.

While the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has some drawbacks, these should even out. NCLB obviously makes education less enjoyable for teachers, driving away the brightest and most ambitious. However the point of quality control is that you can get away with a much duller labor force. Instead of low wages and hoping to get high-quality employees, with quality control you can get low wages and employees capable of performing mechanistic tasks, such teaching to tests. Likewise, NCLB takes away time from exploratory learning which could help the most gifted. However, primary and secondary education should provide the skills needed for life, not compete with other institutions of learning. A gifted high schooler is much better off studying for CLEP or AP tests, or attending (physically or online) an institution of higher education

More proof of the NCLB’s effectiveness keeps rolling in. Stories in the past month on science and reading scores show improvement, especially among the poor, blacks, and hispanics, in places as diverse as , Florida, New York State, New York City, Washington, DC — actually, all across the nation.

Like many conservatives, I was scared of No Child Left Behind when it began. It was an anti-democratic, federal powergrab.

Fortunately, it’s worked. And it’s working.

All that’s need now is continuous tuning, making the measures better, free education of the burden of an education and ambitious labor force, and the eventual establishing of national standards which will make public education a uniform and worthwhile experience for everyone.

Update: This post foreshadows my discussion of how academia works, how science works, and normal science.

US Public Schools — Still Terrible (after all these years)

Courtesy of Robert Paterson, who DNI informed me also attended the Boyd conference:

Spending v. Reading at American Public Schools

This blog’s first post was on the terrible state of America’s public schools. Our country, which has by far the best university’s in the world, has a broken and sick system for educating those under 18.

I’m sympathetic to No Child Left Behind, not because it a wise policy, but because it is a step in smashing a system which is far, far worse.