Thursday, September 09, 2004


Debunking The Mythical Kerry Flip-Flops Part II: No Child Left Behind

In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush ran as the education candidate. Touting the mind-blowing numbers from what he had dubbed the "Texas Miracle," George W. Bush vowed to overhaul America's education system and on December 18, 2001, he did just that with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The bill was supported by 87 members of the U.S. Senate including John Kerry. The Bush administration likes to claim that Kerry's recent criticism of the bill qualifies as yet another flip-flop on his part. As I will try to prove, this is untrue.

To begin with, I think we need to qualify a couple of points. First, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is based upon the education system of the state of Texas, in particular the Houston Independent School District, which is centered around the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) Test. Second, Mrs. kissfan and myself are both educators who spent two years working in the Texas school system, in particularly the Aldine Independent School District in Houston which borders H.I.S.D. Because of this, I feel as though I have the expertise to speak on this subject. So let's begin by taking a closer look at the Texas system and the TAAS Test.

Briefly, the TAAS Test is given every Spring at multiple grade levels. During the time I was in Texas, the TAAS test was given as a type of exit test to high school Sophomores. If a student was unable to achieve an acceptable score in his or her Sophomore year, he or she was allowed to retake it as a Junior or a Senior. If the student was still unable to earn a passing score, that student was not permitted to graduate. Therefore, the entire school year was dedicated to preparing for this test. Lessons were prepared with TAAS objectives in mind. Tests had to be written to include a significant portion in the TAAS format. Test taking strategies were stressed. Teachers held after-school tutorial sessions just for the test. If a student failed a specific portion of the test, let's say math, that student was then placed in a special TAAS Math class in addition to their regular class load. In other words, this was a big deal. As a teacher it was all about the mighty TAAS. And what was the motivation? Well if you were an administrator and your school performed well, you received a cash bonus. If you were a teacher and your students performed poorly, you could lose your job. This is what's called accountability in the education field. Great for principals, but bad for teachers.

Now on the surface, this may sound like a reasonable approach. However, it goes against the principals of education. Putting the flaws in the test itself aside, there is very little true learning that takes place here. It is simply regurgitation of memorized facts. No life-long strategies are being taught, no true problem-solving skills are being learned. Simply put: Remember this and spit it out during the test. The test is all that matters.

As I said, this may sound like a reasonable approach. Insisting on higher achievement from students is a good thing. This is why uber-liberal Ted Kennedy formed an alliance with President Bush to support this bill and make sure of its passage. Improving education is something everyone can get behind. With this in mind and the remarkable achievement scores as proof, John Kerry voted in support of the NCLB Act of 2001.

After the bill had been passed and was signed into law, the Bush administration did the unthinkable. They didn't fully fund it. Of the proposed $15 billion price tag, the White House only budgeted for $5 billion. For this year's budget alone, the administration has underfunded it by $7 billion. However, schools are still required to meet the standards set by the bill. This places the burden of funding on the individual states. State budgets are already in a crunch and now this. Many critics have referred to the NCLB Act as an unfunded mandate. This is one of the criticisms that John Kerry has leveled at the President concerning education.

Furthermore, in 2003 it was revealed that the so-called "Texas Miracle" was a fraud. Rod Paige, the country's current Secretary of Education, was the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District during the period that the "miracle" supposedly occured. It was discovered that the district had been cooking the books. Underachieving students were encouraged to withdraw from school prior to the test dates yet were not recorded as dropouts. Some students were forced to repeat their Freshman year of high school only to be later jumped ahead to the Junior class thereby missing the TAAS test altogether. To put this simply, only the smart students were allowed to take the test.

Clearly, test averages were going to rise. The district looked great, the administrators got their bonus, they became a role model for the entire state, and Rod Paige looked like a genius. Who wouldn't want to copy what they were doing? But upon closer scrutiny, it was learned that the district was actually doing quite poorly. Their true droput rate, which had been reported at an incredible 1.5% was actually somewhere between 25% and 50%. And in terms of educational progress, the district was doing worse than many other schools including some of the most disadvantaged districts in cities like Los Angeles. This is the other point of criticism that John Kerry has leveled at the President concerning education.

What the Bush administration would like you to believe is that John Kerry voted in support of education and then turned his back on it. But what really happened is that John Kerry voted for a bill based upon false information and has since learned the truth. Like the alleged Iraq flip-flop, the Bush administration is deceiving the public with syntax. John Kerry has not turned his back on education, he is standing up against a deceptive bill that provides little proof of success and has been consistently underfunded by the President. I equate this to the Enron scandal. If a person bought stock in Enron based upon their inflated numbers and then dumped it when the scam was revealed, we wouldn't call them a flip-flopper, we'd say they had good sense to get rid of it. They were deceived but made the right choice when the evidence presented itself. Were they to keep the stock after learning of the scandal, we'd say they were naive to blindly stick with their failed endeavor.

This is the difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush. John Kerry has the sense to sell his stock. George Bush has stubbornly decided to keep his.

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