To be sure, No Child Left Behind had some serious problems, but one of its real strengths was its focus, as the name implies, on improving education for all the country’s students. Under No Child, schools that didn’t perform for special student groups got identified even if their overall average scores looked OK.
Sadly, when the US Department of Education began to issue waivers to No Child several years ago, this focus on every child became lost very quickly. Once again, state-developed alternatives created under the waiver program – including the new Unbridled Learning school accountability system in Kentucky – began averaging special student performance together with all the rest of the students. Along the way, these waiver-based school accountability programs again began to overlook serious under-performance for minorities, English language learners, the learning disabled and the poor.
Unbridled Learning was definitely problematic in this area. Our very limited study last year of the first year of KPREP math results in Louisville found examples of schools where African-Americans were being left far behind while Unbridled Learning awarded superior scores to their schools. We note examples in that study, “Blacks Still Falling Through Gaps, the 2012 Update,” citing two Louisville schools:
“Norton and Brandeis elementary schools posted incredibly large white minus black math proficiency rate gaps of more than 51 percentage points in 2012. Nevertheless, both schools were recognized as a ‘School of Distinction.’”
Thus, despite these huge achievement gaps, Unbridled Learning ranked both of those schools among the top 10 percent of all the schools in Kentucky.
Many No Child waivers (including Kentucky’s) are now up for review and renewal. Sadly, a new announcement in Education Week says a key element states were going to have to include to get a new waiver is now being removed from the requirements.
“…the U.S. Department of Education is planning to back away from the waiver requirement that states do a better job making sure poor and minority students have equal access to effective teachers.”
And, so it goes. The dream of paying explicit attention to not leave any of our children behind seems to be growing dimmer by the day.