Sunday, April 03, 2005

No Child Left Behind II

Secretery of Education Margaret Spellings, fresh from taking Buster the Bunny Rabbit to task for promoting a gay lifestyle to impressionable children on PBS stations, fired a Fort Sumner shot at public high schools yesterday in a Washington Post op-ed piece.

"Now we must expand the promise of No Child Left Behind to our high schools. Its principles of accountability, flexibility, choice and research-based practice can help restore value to the high school diploma, making it a ticket to success in the 21st century. There is a growing consensus behind high school reform. Never before have some many groups -- governors, business leaders, children's advocates -- been so united on the need to act...We need to encourage students to take challenging coursework, and to assess our high school students every year, so that teachers can intervene before a problem sets in and sets a student back for life."

If you are a public high school teacher today, these are indeed scary words. Ms. Spellings, one of the main architects of NCLB I and a huge proponent of high-stakes testing, wants to add federally-mandated, high-stakes tests in every subject in every year of high school. Currently, the states mandate the testing schedule in high school. In New York State, students can take Regents exams in a variety of subjects during their four years in high school: english, math a, math b, global, U.S. history, living environments, chemistry, physics, foreign languages, and vocational majors. In order to graduate with a Regents diploma, students must pass exams in english, global, U.S. history, math, and science. If they entered high school between the years 1999-2005, students can pass the exams with a score of 55 (though most schools are judged by how many students pass with a 65 or higher on their exams); if they enter high school after 2005, they must pass all of their Regents exams with a 65 or higher.

What will NCLB II do to the New York State Regents exam standards? Will the federal mandates supercede the state mandates? Will the federal standards be higher than the states standards or lower? Remember, when it come to environmental standards, the Bush Administration federal standards are often less rigorous than many state standards, so we can't say for certain how rigorous the new federal standards will be and how they will affect the states.

What we can say for certain is that NCLB II will be another smoke-and-mirrors act by the Bush Administration that will ultimately undermine the very purposes it is purporting to achieve. Just as the recent Medicare Reform law was devised to undermine the Medicare system by bankrupting it, just as the "private accounts" the president wants to add into the Social Security system are designed to choke the funding from the system and kill the program, NCLB I and NCLB II are designed to undermine American public education over the next ten years so that ultimately every public school in the nation will be declared "failing" under the dictates of the law by 2015. At that time, conservatives can then throw their hands in the air, say "We tried to fix this mess, we really did; but obviously we're going to have to kill it." And then they will pass the Federal Voucher Act, which will starve the public system of its tax money while enrapturing the conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic base with tax subsidies for religious schools.

Make no mistake, the strategy behind the No Child Left Behind laws is not to improve public education but to destroy it. Now I have no problem with conservatives who want to end New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare, nor do I have issues with conservatives who want to add a voucher system to public education, if those conservatives are being honest and open about their true motivations. Ronald Reagan declared he wanted to shut down the Department of Education (at that time a recent expansion of the federal government enacted by the Carter Administration). You knew how Reagan felt about the Department of Ed and you could have an honest and open debate with him on whether it should exist or not.

You cannot have honest debate with anybody in the Bush Administration or the current Republican leadership because they are liars. They are not honest about any of their policies or their true intentions. They want to destroy the New Deal social programs and public education, but they know most American voters don't agree with them, so they say openly they are strengthening the programs while their actions show they are undermining them from within.
For a group of people that used to hammer the Clintons so much for having poll-driven beliefs and policies, the Republican Party has been greatly influenced by Frank Luntz and other pollsters who have shown that obfuscation and deliberate deception in language usage is the practical way to confuse Americans over your true intentions and get what you ultimately want without having to be honest about it.

For example, George W. Bush is on record as wanting to privatize the Social Security program as far back as 1978. Amerciancs genuinely like Social Security and do not want to see the program privatized, so the Republican Party has to be careful how they couch the issue. What they do is parse words in a masterful exercise of Clintonian language manipulation. Therefore the words "private accounts", a phrase George W. Bush has used in the past to describe his Social Security reform plan, suddenly becomes "personal accounts" when Frank Lunzt and other pollsters tell Karl Rove that the word "private" creates anxiety in voters who don't want to see it privatized. So Luntz changes the phrase to "personal accounts", though the policy proposal itself never changes. Now Americans feel less threatened by the phrases being used to talk about the Bush Social Security plan and are more apt to consider the reforms in a positive light. It turns out that the deception and obfuscation haven't worked so far in the case of Social Security, but they sure did work during the first Bush Adminstration with Medicare and education, which is why so many Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, signed onto these "reforms".

Democrats have not been in the mood for compromise so far in the second term, so I do believe Bush and Spellings will have a more difficult time passing high school education reform than they had passing NCLB I. Many Americans are catching on to the obfuscation strategy the Bush Administration has perfected into an artform (it hasn't worked so far in convincing Americans to accept the Republican positions in either passing Social Security reform or ending the Senate Filibuster), so Bush is starting to find that people are not taking his words at face value any more. Republican small-government conservatives are leary of extending more federal power over the states or enlarging the size of the federal government. Finally, the states themselves are starting to rebel over the unrealistic federal mandates, as witnessed in the fight between the Department of Education and the state of Utah, which is still unresolved but may result in Utah giving up federal tax money in order to opt out of the NCLB mandates.

If I believed or trusted George W. Bush or Margaret Spellings about their true motivations to reform high school education, I would be open to listening to their reform ideas. But I do not believe or trust them and neither should anybody else. Bush modeled NCLB I on what he called the "Houston miracle", though we have since seen that the Houston education miracle was actually a scam in which Houston education officials falsified test scores and graduate statistics in order to make their school districts look much better than they truly were. Thus NCLB I was based on false premises and lies, just the way the war in Iraq was; in fact, false premises and lies pretty much sum up the true nature of George W. Bush, Margaret Spelllings, and the rest of the administration.

Thankfully those false premises and lies are starting to catch up to the Vacation Cowboy. Bush got his bankruptcy and his class-action reforms; but so far he has not gotten his Social Security privatization plan, he has not gotten his right-wing conservative judge appointees, and he has not gotten the "nuclear option" he has been pushing (i.e., the end of the Senate Filibuster).

I hope he does not get his high school education reform plan either. I believe high schools need to be reformed, but we must wait for a president with honor and honesty before we embark upon that reform.

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