from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

This administration really blows it 

n case you haven’t noticed, I have not been posting much, because my area of expertise is education, and there have been many more immediate issues as a result of Katrina. But thanks to Secretary of Education Spelling, I now feel forced to post. This is a critically important issue, so pay attention.

Hurricane Katrina is being used to make schools “fail.” That is the only conclusion one can draw from the decision of Secretary Spellings that the children dislocated by Hurricane Katrina will still have to sit for the tests required under No Child Left Behind.

Below the fold I will offer some clips from an article at HuffingtonPost, a copy of which via Yahoo I just received on an educational list. I will then offer some comments of my own.


The article by Deborah Rappaport is entitled [Leaving behind the children of Katrina http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20050905/cm_huffpost/006801] and what is interesting is that it has been posted on Yahoo, giving it far more distribution and visibility than it would get were it to remain merely on Huffington. What immediately caught my eye was the following
In an interview on NPR this morning, Margaret Spellings, head of the Department of Education, said that she "did not want to write off this school year for these children."

In other words, she is going to insist on the tests being applied, in the schools of relocation. As Rappaport notes:
These are children who have endured things that no one -- not a child, not an adult, no one -- should have to have seen or lived through. These are children who have seen everything they know, everything they have ever had or known, washed away by a combination of nature and neglect. These are children whose parents and communities are traumatized beyond our imagining. And now, the one safe haven children have when everything else is gone, the school house, is guaranteeing that many if not most of them will be labeled as failures.

I want to offer one more clip from Rappaport that makes clear the implications, then I will offer my own comments. First from Rappaport:
If a school receives refugee children who are not exempt, even if the school would otherwise have been able to jump through the hoops that Washington has set for it, they will almost certainly be deemed failing for this school year. If that school continues to educate these students next year, they will again be guilty of not "improving" sufficiently. If a school does not "improve" for two years, federal sanctions can be imposed, including reductions in funding. So where does that leave the school districts who have opened their school doors to these children and families? Districts will have to make the impossible choice of doing what is right for some of the most vulnerable victims of Katrina, or of doing what is right for the children already enrolled in their schools. As a school board member, a mother, an American, and a human being, I know that I would hate to be forced by my federal government to have to make that choice.

Now my thoughts. First, we do not know for sure how the scores of the children taking in by receiving districts will be treated, but all the evidence is that the receiving schools will be required to count them, if those students are still there at the time of the test. After all, Spellings has been notoriously loathe to offer any flexibility to date. The one thing that could change that is the fact that the state receiving the largest number is Texas, whose scores are already a disaster, and the city receiving the most displaced people for now is Houston, which already has severe problems with how it has handled scores in the past.

Somehow this seems to demonstrate the kind of bureaucratic mindset about which Republicans so often complained in the past. It becomes a following of the letter of regulations which may be inappropriate in a crisis, and also seems to parallel some of the responses by FEMA and elsewhere in the Federal government when it came to humanitarian relief efforts.

Rappaport rightly worries about being forced to make the choice of what is best for the children of her school and her strong desire to act in ah humanitarian fashion. No one should be confronted with such a choice, or anything equivalent. Any government regulation or law that could potentially impede getting the fullest measure of assistance to those whose lives have been disrupted by the hurricane -- and by the criminally negligent response of many governmental officials - should immediately be suspended.

I doubt that Spellings will be able to insist upon the inclusion of test scores for such children. But in fact given the crisis one can well argue that the money that would be spend on testing any children would be far better spent in the necessary expenditures for accommodating those children who have between displaced and traumatized by the storm. Should the administration insist on maintaining the regulations about testing, as seems indicated by the remarks made today by Spellings, it is likely to have the effect of undercutting what support remains for the testing regimen of NCLB.

As a teacher I don’t give a damn about the possible political implications. I do care passionately ab out ensuring that every displaced child immediately have access to free and adequate public schooling. If they requires commandeering space so that classrooms are not overcrowded, surely that is a higher priority than obtaining test scores. If it means that the receiving districts and schools waive the normal certification requirements so that they can employ the teachers who have also been dislocated and relocated, is not having trained teachers, even if they may not meet that state’s requirements for being highly qualified, a higher priority than fulfilling the letter of the regulations?

We have seen many people who have chosen to ignore FEMA and other agencies in order to do what it is right. That includes “stealing” a bus to drive escapees out, contacting the Governor’s office instead of FEMA so that one could be “authorized” to help. Or, as I saw last night on Scarborough’s show, the ballet teacher from Alabama who organized her own rescue and triage units and took them into Mississippi, among other places to a center which was a horrible situation and to which the only prior relief had been that Scarborough and his people had brought from Pensacola several days earlier -- to the point of the filming, there had been NO federal relief.

Yes, I am passionate about education. It is the way out for so many, but only if it is more than merely preparation for low level tests. But I will fight that battle on principle another time. In this posting I want to make people aware of the implications of the statements of an important federal official, one who seems totally deaf and blind to the reality of what these children have undergone, and through which they may have to endure for months, if not the rest of the school year.
Excellent catch and comments, Ken.

"Here's your new classroom, kids. Now sharpen those #2 pencils."

Could this simply be spin? I cannot understand the timing otherwise. If anyone should avoid the 'accountability' word for a while it is this administration.

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