But this assumes that a state department of education can single-handedly "take responsibility for improving its schools." When will the federal government join the states in taking responsibility? When will the federal government take all the necessary steps to close the educational achievement gap, not just punish poor schools for being poor?
Connecticut's NAACP is concerned that the "unfunded mandate" argument used by the state of Connecticut in its lawsuit against the federal government might undermine other "unfunded mandates," particularly the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Dennis C. Hayes, the general counsel at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Baltimore headquarters said in a 2/8/06 Education Week story that allowing Connecticut to opt out of such a critical part of the federal law would set a dangerous precedent by encouraging policymakers elsewhere to do the same. “If we view No Child Left Behind in terms of civil rights, then we are concerned about a state begging to be excused from participating or complying with an act intended to help disadvantaged people,” he said.
However, this is no way suggests that the Connecticut NAACP supports NCLB. Like the national NAACP, which signed the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in opposition to NCLB, the Connecticut NAACP is critical of NCLB. According to its press release, "This unusual alignment for the civil rights organization . . . does not represent full support of the No Child Left Behind Act." “If you want to get at the table, you have to choose a side,” Connecticut NAACP State Conference President Scot X. Esdaile said. “On this particular issue—not on all the intricacies of the law—we choose to stand on the side of the federal government.”
According to its press release, the Connecticut NAACP feels that "the richest state in the nation should be working to help the poorest children have the maximum capacity to succeed with qualified teachers and other resources." Esdaile said, “The bottom line is, the concerns with No Child Left Behind shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not provide equity in education to these children, and they deserve a seat at the table.”
In supporting the federal government in this case, the Connecticut NAACP compromises the civil right of minority children to a free, high-quality education in order to forestall any possibility of the "unfunded mandate" argument encroaching on other civil rights laws. So a civil rights organization, the parent of which is vocally opposed to the law, sides with the law in an effort to preserve civil rights. But in so doing, violates the civil rights of the children it ostensibly serves.
What more evidence could you ask for of the corrosive, caustic effects of this perverse law, a law that turns parents against teachers, teachers against administrators, administrators against state officials, and state officials against the federal government. In this case, a civil rights organization ends up compromising its own mission and purpose to defend its mission and purpose.
The law seemingly turns civil rights organizations against themselves, or certainly against their own interests. In this case, the logic of the Connecticut NAACP is, "Better to violate civil rights now and avoid the possibility of civil rights being violated later." Sadly, this is a clear reflection on the status of conversations surrounding civil rights in this day and age. Not an unequivocal stand, but rather, "Let's make a deal."
The Connecticut NAACP is justifiably and understandably upset with the educational achievement gap and the extent to which minority children have been ignored. But how much sense does it make to side with the Bush administration, a group of people who willfully neglect the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes and who concentrate exclusively on school reform in an effort to close the gap? As Rothstein, Berliner, et al, have argued, poor children go to school poor and come home poor. Nothing that happens at school changes this. Yes, these kids can learn. But why not do everything in our power to level the playing field so that what happens at school is complemented, not offset by, what happens at home? The Connecticut NAACP supporting the Bush administration in this lawsuit guarantees one thing: the educational achievement gap will remain just as wide and will undoubtedly get wider.
In its lawsuit, the state of Connecticut is not whining and evading its responsibility. It is simply recognizing that accountability applies to everyone, not just teachers and schools.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that the Connecticut case is thrown out. In all likelihood, it will be, judging from what happened with the NEA lawsuit -- which used the "unfunded mandate" argument as the foundation of its suit against the feds and had it thrown out by a Michigan judge. So Connecticut, which can't afford to pass up the Title 1 money from the feds, will be forced to comply.
In order to afford to comply, Connecticut will have to take the advice of Spellings and dumb down its tests. "The U.S. Department of Education has suggested that Connecticut streamline its test and offer a less expensive version that would include only multiple-choice questions . . . " The federal government's claim in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit is, "Connecticut's expansion of its multimillion-dollar annual Mastery Test program does more than the federal law actually requires. . . The federal government . . . says the additional expenses incurred by Connecticut are the result of the state's own decision to reject a less expensive form of testing." (source: EXPENSES AT ISSUE IN "NO CHILD" LAWSUIT, Hartford Courant -- February 1, 2006 by Robert Frahm)
"There's always the option of dumbing down our tests to the point where we believe they would be inadequate, and we're not willing to do that," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. (source: EXPENSES AT ISSUE IN "NO CHILD" LAWSUIT, Hartford Courant -- February 1, 2006 by Robert Frahm)
So here is the state of Connecticut standing up for rich assessments, assessments that include a section on writing in the new tests, as well as other questions requiring written answers. Here is the federal government demanding that Connecticut do assessment on the cheap. But even these dumbed-down tests, according to Blumenthal, would cost about $4 million more than what the federal government provides.
If the feds win this case, it could pave the way for all non-multiple-choice tests to be eliminated.
Missouri educators are rather proud of the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) because it contains a variety of question types that help to show what students know and can do. For example, the MAP communication arts test contains multiple-choice, constructed-response, and performance-based questions for grades 3, 7 and 11. But the tests for grades 4, 5, 6 and 8 include only multiple-choice and constructed-response items. Similarly, the mathematics tests for grades 4, 8 and 10 include multiple-choice, constructed-response, and performance-based questions, but the tests for grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 include only multiple-choice and and constructed-response items.
The reason the open-ended, performance-oriented questions are not offered for all grades? They cost too much money to grade.
If the federal government continues to refuse to adequately fund NCLB, and if Connecticut loses this court fight, expect to see other states that are not already doing so rush to do assessment on the cheap.
As Maggie Spellings herself admits, "What gets measured gets taught." So if Connecticut loses the court case, Connecticut school teachers will be forced -- like so many of their colleagues around the country -- to teach that which can be measured by a multiple-choice test.
How does this protect the civil rights of children, especially the children at the margins of our society? Please select the response that best answers this question:
- Poor and minority kids don't need to know all that critical thinking stuff, so who cares?
- Writing is for sissies and college-bound preppies; most of these kids will never go to college any way, so no use wasting their time.
- Multiple-choice tests tell us everything we need to know about whether kids are learning, teachers are doing their jobs, and public education is working.
- It never has and it never will.