Tuesday, July 20, 2004

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Does this say anything about No Child Left Behind?

Chicago Tribune reporter Stephanie Banchero spent a school year chronicling one family's efforts to exploit the No Child Left Behind act. The result has been three front-page stories in a row amounting to over 11,000 words --in order, click here, here, and then here.

The story is an affecting one -- third-grader Rayola Victoria Carwell starts the year transferring to a good school way out of her neighborhood, but in the end is transferred back to a neighborhood school of lesser quality. At one juncture, Banchero doubts the worthiness of the law:

No Child Left Behind rests on the basic premise that giving poor children access to better schools will translate into a better education.

The law expects schools such as Stockton to make sure Victoria and every other child can read, write and do math at the required grade level. Schools that do not score well are branded as failures and face a series of sanctions that eventually could shut them down. But the law is mute on the complex issues that shape Victoria's home life, issues that also affect her classroom performance....

By law, children transferring schools under No Child Left Behind are the neediest in the system. Most live in poverty and post some of the lowest scores on state achievement exams. But in what many educators call a monumental shortcoming, the law does not require schools do anything extra to help these children or their families once they arrive at new higher-performing campuses.

Sounds bad, except that the three-part story undercuts that hypothesis. The Stockton school finds funding through other grant sources to address the kind of concerns Banchero raises -- all for naught, as the mother persistently fails to follow through on the offers for help. Furthermore, even after Victoria transfers back to a local neighborhood school, she experiences the same problem she did at Stockton -- truancy.

Then there's this tidbit from the last of the three articles:

Of the 14 children who transferred to Stockton Elementary at the beginning of the school year, five moved into special-education classes, and five did well and passed to the next grade, school officials say. Only Rayola, her two brothers and her cousin left the school.

I'd still recommend reading the articles, if only to realize the concrete constraints of any public policy when confronting a difficult home life. But it would be wrong to generalize anything from the Carwells' story.

posted by Dan on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM


I too read these articles and I too differed from the author on the moral behind the story. I truly felt for the mother--despite her shortcomings, she seemed to want her kids to succeed, but she could not hold up her end of the deal. I don't see what government can do to make up the difference, short of reviving Newt Gingrich's old idea of opening state-run boarding schools for at risk kids. As an undergrad I took a lot of crap from friends for saying it sounded good then. Still might be worth trying.

posted by: Kelli on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

This is a painful story to read. I've had a lot of issues lately with the Trib's inability to tell a story and include all relevant sides, but I think they're doing a pretty good job with this one. This is not so simple, and yet it is, really. The mother seems to know what to do, but simply won't, and yes, in some cases, can't follow through.

I also feel for the teachers. Whether they confront the mother or not, it seems to make no difference. I also wonder why one school is teaching one math curriculum and the other is using a different "new math" approach that is just confusing the girl more and negating the gains in math that she got from Stockton. I would have assumed that all Chicago schools would have a solid math curriculum across the board that all of the schools use. It's also interesting that the school with the lower scores is the one using the new math. There seems to be a real common sense quotient missing here, but maybe I'm missing something.

The tragedy, of course, is the wasted potiential of this very bright little girl.

posted by: SD on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

I disapprove of NCLB for a number of reasons, but it's absurd to pretend this story has anything to do with the program. Rayola and her brothers have an ineffective, incapable mother, incapable of parenting them. The true tragedy is that her ability to hold down a job and at least make the attempt to improve her children's lives puts her at the high end of the competency scale for many of the parents whose children need help.

"short of reviving Newt Gingrich's old idea of opening state-run boarding schools for at risk kids"

Politically impossible, of course, and probably far more expensive. But at least the money spent wouldn't be wasted. As it is, we do the children a grave disservice by pretending that their problem is a lack of access. Until we acknowledge the real problem, we can't come up with meaningful solutions.

posted by: CalGal on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

I always have a problem with one case study stories like this. I am no big defender of the No Child Left Behind program, and nor am I a staunch critic. Consider me somewhat in the middle - it's a good idea in theory but probably not so much in practice.

But I digress. Now it could be that NCLB has seriously put a damper on this child's education. It may very well be that many other children might be adversely affected, and we can all hear their sob stories. But does one or two or even several hundred such stories prove that a program is bad or ineffectual? I don't think so.

Now perhaps this story does show some of the ill effects the program potentially has on the very people it's supposed to aid, and for that alone it is to commended in some regard. But does it really demonstrate anything substantive about NCLB? Not really.

posted by: Paul on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

calgal--I couldn't agree more. while it is a sad situation, it's equally sad that true problems cannot (typically) be discussed in a civilized manner.

it's a bad education system seemingly getting worse.

posted by: Lee on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

Three Words: The Bell Curve

posted by: stari_momak on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

NCLB worked, in the sense that the children stayed in the new and better school, for ten of the fourteen kids but the profile is done on one of the four for whom it failed.

I think you can make a generalization from that.

posted by: Chris B on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

Claiming fault with NCLB because the mother doesn't support the child is facile. I don't think it's the school's place to make up the difference either. Here in Seattle they want funding so that kids can be put in school from pre-school to college with after school programs thrown in on the taxpayer nickel. That sounds a lot like Newt's program but applied for everyone, putting all kids 'at risk' given the state of education. ( The Seattle school district wants to eliminate the 2.0 GPA graduation requirement for high school. )

Moreover, where is the father? The article describes the mom as a high school drop out, was this because of her kids? It's been said again and again that a whole family unit is important for a successful childhood, not required, but important. There are a lot of problems that this article touches on, but NCLB is probably the least important factor. It's not like NCLB caused the girl's situation.

posted by: aodhan on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

Where a flaw in NCLB comes in is cases where a school "fails" not because of quality of the instruction at the school, but because it has a lot of students in similarly troubled families.

ie, to adequately judge a school's performance, you would need to account for students underperforming because of their home life. As this case study shows, such students would often perform poorly at *any* school, so penalizing a school for their poor performance seems wrong-headed.

posted by: Jon H on 07.20.04 at 03:54 PM [permalink]

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