Every Child (And School) Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind law isn’t just an unfunded mandate, it’s a stalking-horse for the school voucher program. The ratings system is designed not to encourage schools to improve but to function as motivation for parents to opt out of the public school system altogether. John Young, opinion page editor for the Waco Tribune-Herald, calls it “…the ultimate consumerist approach, [which] requires that we have ‘failed’ schools, if only a few to get the ball rolling” in an op-ed printed in the AJC, and he’s right. The “reforms” are a trick intended to get parents thinking like consumers; if they’re aren’t happy with some service, they can shop around for something better.

As I pointed out in “The Mythology of Corporate Government (II)”, corporate managers are trained to see everything a govt does as just another market-driven. consumer-oriented product: the Treasury Dept is no different than McDonald’s, the Labor Dept is an extension of the corporate division where lawyers break strikes, and HEW are the consultants a corporation hires to promote “efficiency” by cutting costs. They don’t recognize any other goals or mandates, and the NCLB rules are designed using “objective” measurements that owe more to the ease of measuring than any concept of education as we’d understand the term.

And that’s beginning to be noticed by the very people who sold this travesty to us. Young points out that:

To have the Houston Independent School District rated “unacceptable” is like finding out that Mother Teresa was queen of the craps table.The district has been the graven image of school reform under President Bush with Houston ISD’s former superintendent Rod Paige elevated to patron saint or secretary of education, whichever is closer to heaven.

Now low, low drop-out rates under Paige have proved bogus. HISD is facing six months probation from the Texas Education Agency while its procedures are reviewed.


And golly, Mr Paige–the architect of Bush’s NCLB, Texas-version–doesn’t think that’s fair.

The irony now is that Paige’s school district is on notice as a loser, though he pleads that the “unacceptable” rating is a false generalization about a district that does good work. Excellent point, Mr. Paige.

Talk about chickens coming home to roost.

But as good as this editorial is in nailing the problems and repercussions of a totally flawed approach and accurately pinpointing the ultimate aim (pushing vouchers), Mr Young misses the reason that this radical right-wing Admin is pushing voucher programs in the first place.

It isn’t because they work, because they don’t. Practically every place they’ve been tried, vouchers have turned out to be a disaster, not a panacea. Schools aren’t Wal-Marts or GEs and if you attempt to judge them by the same criteria you’re missing the point (which is a little like throwing a basketball at the broad side of a barn door from 4 feet away–and missing it). Vouchers don’t promote better schools, they promote “teaching to the test” and fudging on the numbers, as Mr Young makes clear:

Because those test scores are seen as the end-all by tunnel-visioned policy makers, the demonstrable tendency in Texas has been for teachers to teach the test or for principals to fluff up the numbers by exempting students, just as the Houston ISD fluffed up its drop-out numbers.

So why does the Bush Admin want to promote the use of vouchers in the first place? Mr Young doesn’t say, but I will. Vouchers have only 2 functions as far as conservatives are concerned:

1) They provide a way to skew the system so that public schools will be left with only the poorest students in the poorest districts, everyone else having moved into private schools. Why do they want to encourage such a sea-change? So they will have an excuse to cut funding for those schools and eventually eliminate govt funding for education altogether. The ultraconservatives who control the Bush Admin (including Junior himself) want to do no less than get govt out of the education business, an item that has been high on the far-right wish-list for decades. Vouchers give them the mechanism to do it.

2) But underneath the far-right economic objective is a far-right religious objective: studies show that a lot of the parents who move their kids out of the public schools use the vouchers to place them in religious schools. Quite simply, vouchers are a way of sneaking govt support of religion (almost always the fundamentalist Christian religion) in under the radar and thereby avoiding (they think) the silly restrictions mandated by that obstructionist document the rest of call the “Constitution”. Such a bother. It seems to get in the way every single time they want to do something theocratic, so why not just go around it?

So I guess you could call vouchers a two-fer: with one stroke, you get to dismantle the federal education budget and slip theocracy in the governmental back door. Precedents are important in law: do it once successfully and that improves dramatically your chances for doing it again in other areas. It’s what the Brits call “the thin end of the wedge”: you use it to crack a locked door wide open one small, unnoticeable shove at a time.

Will parents wake up to what’s being done to the Constitution in their names? And if they do, will they be in time to stop it?

I don’t know. What do you think?

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