If the real intent of NCLB is not to improve educational attainment, then what is the primary motivation? As in most endeavors, one merely needs to follow the money trail and the money trail clearly demonstrates that, as is the case with the U. S. Congress, the Arizona Legislature is for sale, even at the expense of the children.
Due to the increased testing mandates of NCLB, education is witnessing a wealth re-distribution scheme similar to what is going on with the American economy as government continues to make decisions which determine winners and losers in the financial sector. Mandated testing is big business as private publishing companies enjoy record earnings courtesy of the United States taxpayers as mandated by NCLB : CTB-McGraw Hill, Harcourt (owned by London-based Reed-Elsevier), and Houghton Mifflin, cumulatively control about 80% of the market. The total market in textbook rewrites, due to mandated NCLB policies, and related educational testing materials is worth over $7 billion in revenues. And what do the American people get for this enormous financial NCLB expenditure? Well, according to the College Board, since the implementation of NCLB, SAT scores are at a 31 year low!
The consequences are steep for school personnel if their school children fail to pass these exams. In short, by 2014, if schools do not have 100% of their students performing at some arbitrary level as measured by these exams, the school will be closed and the staff will be fired. The schools will go into a type of receivership and NCLB will reallocate federal tax money from “failing” schools and subsequently enrich the privately held entities such as Educate Inc. and benignly refer to the process as “parental choice.” Ironically, while school districts are required to certify that their teaching staff meets the highly qualified NCLB requirement for teachers, private tutoring companies will be under no such requirement to prove that their staff even has such credentials. If children do not pass the NCLB mandated exams, administrators and teachers will ultimately lose their jobs. What happens to the owners of Education INC. when their students are still failing to perform to meet these very nebulous NCLB standards? The legislators who authorized the implementation of NCLB have not thought that far ahead and Arizona’s State Legislature blindly follows these insane policies even when they presumably know that they have a choice to not participate.
In Arizona, NCLB mandated testing comes in the form of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). Arizona is dead last in the percentage number of graduating students among the fifty United States. The AIMS test was instituted to ensure that more of Arizona’s students were receiving appropriate instruction. The motivation behind AIMS is flawed on its face. How does testing ensure anything, but test results? Testing does not make students attend class, do their homework and aspire to be more than they are. A dedicated teacher with a challenging and relevant curriculum inspire students to be more tomorrow than they are today. The millions of dollars it takes to create and implement the AIMS test are being taken directly from classroom supplies and teacher salaries. Again, the Arizona Legislature had a choice to opt out of NCLB and has chosen not to exercise that right. The Goldwater Institute has noted that Arizona has repeatedly lowered the passing bar or made content easier every year since 1999, with failure rates falling from about 60 percent in 2002 to 2004 to 30 percent in 2006. This defeats one of the main features of a criterion based test, the use of a fixed, unmoving standard which can be compared across years. In short, the AIMS test has made a mockery of standardized testing and should have finally been put to rest once and for all. And with the present budget crisis, how do the Mensa members of the Legislatures justify the continued spending of Arizona’s dwindling education dollars on such a folly? The answer is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and buried in a black hole.
Arizona’s education system rivals that of any third world country. Witness the fact that one in five teachers will leave the teaching profession within the first five years and 35% cite such as low salaries, poor working conditions and now NCLB policies such meaningless testing and flawed practices such as inclusion (covered in part four of this series) as the primary reasons for their departure from the profession. It is easy to see why teachers are feeling so unhappy, and to discover why one has to look no further than the NCLB mandate which states that every teacher must be a “highly qualified teacher.” The term “highly qualified” sounds good until one read the fine print and discovers that the “highly qualified” process is nothing but a scam designed to fatten the coffers of the testing companies while separating already underpaid teachers from more of their money. For example, in Arizona, the Arizona Legislature mandated that every “highly qualified” teacher, even with those with 30 years experience, must now pass the Arizona Educator Proficiency Exam (AEPA) or risk being unemployed. Amazingly, the AEPA exams contain absolutely no published measures of testing reliability or validity. The AEPA exam is not even correlated to the State Standards from the Arizona Department of Education. The distinct lack of statistical rigor, related to the exam, reduces the test to a meaningless exercise and fully exposes its true purpose, profit. This is not educational quality control; it is unmitigated theft from the very people who actually serve our children. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the AEPA does generously provide a study guide that the teacher can use to study from in preparation for the test. The review guide for social studies contains a grand total of 12 questions in preparation for a four hour exam. For this wonderful service, each Arizona teacher is forced to pay out $134 in test registration and fees to AEPA. Not to be denied their share of NCLB’s extortion dollar, the State of Arizona requires that the scores be reported to their offices. Arizona “Educrats” from the Arizona Department of Education now requires that for each subject taught, teachers must pay an additional $60 to the state in order to list each individual subject on their individual teaching certificate. Therefore, if an Arizona teacher teaches three courses, they recently received an income reduction of $314 after they paid to take the AEPA test. And we wonder why we are seeing such a turnover in the teaching ranks. Are these the practices that the Arizona Legislature should aspire to? Does the Legislature really feel that these predatory practices and do they truly feel that this represents a good day of work on their part?
Remember, under the 10th Amendment, the Arizona Legislature could opt out of this madness and receive the double bonus of avoiding the unfunded mandates of NCLB. However, before one seeks to understand Arizona’s continued participation in this craziness, one must be cognizant of the fact that school children do not have lobbyists. Testing companies and other educational special interest, for profit groups, do have such legislative influence.
Since Arizona’s best and presumably brightest have failed to keep the fox from watching the hen house, where does the ultimate responsibility fall? And whre at will be the ultimate price if we fail to correct these insanities? Part four of this series will examine these questions.