Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"No child left behind" is wrong (and evil)

No child left behind is based on a serious misuse of statistics. It claims to measure the quality of the school by measuring the scores of the students that attend the school. Unfortunately, this only measures the quality of the students. In order to measure the quality of the school, one must measure the improvement in individual student performance year to year. For example, student A scores 56 in May 2005, and 65 in May 2006. The school helped him make that improvement. Meanwhile at student B scores 71 in May 2005 and 72 in May 2006. If the cutoff score is 70, a school full of students like student A fails. A school full of students like student B is golden.

The algebra analogy is that if a train leaves new york going 100 km per hour and train leaves washington dc at 100 km per hour, it's the km per hour that counts, not which one is closer to richmond in an hour. You can't magically make these kids learn faster or "catch up"- the best you can hope for is for them to learn at the same rate as the kids that started ahead.

Okay, so that's why it's wrong- here's why it's evil:


"McNair has not met the federal requirements for three years now, and under the law, students are given the right to transfer to a higher achieving school."

"Gibson said the school system is spending tens of thousands of dollars to send to a nearby school the high-achieving students who opted to transfer out of McNair. He said that most struggling students are choosing to stay put and that the money would be better spent on help for those children."

"Under the law, schools that don't meet the mark for two years must allow students to transfer to higher-performing schools. Schools that fail to make progress for three years must offer private tutoring to low-income children."

See- it's evil! If a school fails- the parents of good students get to send them wherever they want! Hurray- they don't have to go to school with the bad kids! And now...it's even harder for the school to meet the criteria, even if all of the students are getting better even faster, because the loss of the good students brings the average down. I can't believe people think this is good public policy- or do "they" want the public schools to fail so that I can pay for their kids to go to private or religous school...maybe I'm the evil one.

But here's the real rub- the assumption is that you can allow kids to leave school X because it's failing- it's not doing something that some other school Y is doing. If there really was something better about what school Y was doing, why not make school X do that? Maybe it's because it's not about the school at all- it's about the students. If you send the bad students to the good schools, you can hide them there- statistically, because a sufficient percentage of the students will still get the right scores! No matter is school Y is worse, the kids are smarter, they had a head start or they care about school alot, so they're going still pass the test.

All no child left behind is about is diluting the poor students amongst many schools, rather than leaving them concentrated in one school, but the actual effect is that only the parents of good students really want them to get out, so only the poor students get left behind. Still, nothing has been done to improve the quality of the education, only changes in the distribution of the students. This will make NCLB look good using the statistics it created, but will do nothing to help kids learn more and faster.

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