Why Girls Are Better

Christina Hoff Sommers and other “conservatives” have been arguing for awhile that public education in America discriminates against boys, because feminists run education and they are mean. And no wonder girls do better in school, they say, because passive little girls are better able to sit still at a desk and learn stuff, while boys need to be allowed to burn off their male energy by terrorizing the first graders and trashing the library, or something.

Admittedly, since the 1960s there has been a lot of focus on how to boost the self-esteem of girls, both in and out of schools. But building self-esteem isn’t zero-sum; there’s no logical reason to think that encouraging girls to do better would cause boys to shrink into the wallpaper. And, anyway, boys have gone through school sitting at desks and learning stuff from women teachers for many generations, and it seems odd that this has only recently become oppressive.

Also, there’s no clear-cut evidence that boys do better in all-male schools than in co-ed schools. You can find a lot of arguments that boys do better in all-male academies, but the data is ambiguous; there are no effects that can’t be accounted for by other factors, such as family affluence. See also “Single-Sex Education Is Assailed in Report.”

I found one study that says that, in absolute terms, boys are actually learning more than they used to. The difference is that girls are learning way more than they used to. I don’t personally think this is a problem that needs to be fixed.

I bring this up because of an article at Salon that women tend to be more cautious and rational at playing odds, while men are more likely to take crazy risks. This is hardly news, of course. Men tend to be overconfident, often foolishly so, and will rush in where angels fear to tread. Women are more likely to hold back until they see they have a strong chance of succeeding.

How does this relate to school? The Salon article says there is a lot of data showing that boys excel at finite games, or competitions that have a clear beginning, middle, end, winners, losers. But school is an infinite game. It goes on for years, and there is no clearly marked ending where the prizes are handed out. For this reason, in a very competitive academic environment, boys are more likely than girls to burn out, especially if they aren’t at the top of the class.

Put another way, girls are more satisfied with approval, from their peers and from adults. They don’t have to “win.” But boys who are consistently not winning, even though they are doing well, are more likely to get discouraged and quit. Data show that, all other things being equal, smart girls thrive in a competitive academic environment, but smart boys learn more in an academic environment that is less competitive.

There is something to be said for risk-taking, of course, and sometimes the damnfool things men do actually pay off. As far as school is concerned, the data suggests the boys may benefit from smaller classes more than girls do.

The School Choice Ripoff

Republicans like to frame their “school choice” proposals as something that would benefit the working class and poor. But like most Republican policy proposals, it’s a scam to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the poor and enrich a private insurance industry.

Natalie Hopkinson writes,

IF you want to see the direction that education reform is taking the country, pay a visit to my leafy, majority-black neighborhood in Washington. While we have lived in the same house since our 11-year-old son was born, he’s been assigned to three different elementary schools as one after the other has been shuttered. Now it’s time for middle school, and there’s been no neighborhood option available.

Meanwhile, across Rock Creek Park in a wealthy, majority-white community, there is a sparkling new neighborhood middle school, with rugby, fencing, an international baccalaureate curriculum and all the other amenities that make people pay top dollar to live there.

Such inequities are the perverse result of a “reform” process intended to bring choice and accountability to the school system. Instead, it has destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Bill-O Tells a Fib

I just came across a column by Bill O’Reilly in which the Big Giant Head says,

Here’s a lesson that is both ironic and sad at the same time. According to the U.S. Department of Education, two-thirds of the eight graders in Wisconsin cannot read proficiently. But assuming the kids are skilled enough to watch TV, they can now see their teachers demonstrating to keep their generous union benefits. So, while things do not seem to be going well in the classroom, any thought of holding teachers somewhat responsible is cause for a protest march.

Bill-O provides no link to wherever the Department of Education said such a thing. Since I just did a post about education statistics last week, however, I knew where to look for Department of Education statistics. And according to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the average reading score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for Wisconsin eighth grade students is comfortably above the national average.

So either kids in other states are mostly illiterate, or Bill-O told a fib.

Through another page I learned that the average reading scale score for eighth graders nationwide was 262 (out of what I do not know), and the Wisconsin average was 266, Wisconsin’s eight-graders ranked 21st among the states. Massachusetts was first at 274, and last among the states was Mississippi, at 251.

I did some keyword searches on the Department of Education site and found nothing that said two-thirds of Wisconsin eighth graders don’t read proficiently.

Bill-O attributes his own superior education to St. Brigid’s School on Long Island, where there were 60 students and one nun in the classroom. “The nun brooked no nonsense,” he said. “She forced us to learn.” However, she forgot to teach him it’s not nice to pull data out of his ass.

Fun With Numbers

I forgot to mention that Monday was International Dyscalculia Day, meant to achieve recognition of dyscalculia, a learning disorder related to arithmetic. I don’t have all of the symptoms, but I do have several of them. Perhaps mine is a mild case. But the truth is I do struggle with third grade-level arithmetic, and as far as I’m concerned Calculus was a Roman emperor.

So with that in mind, perhaps y’all can help me out with this — Awhile back, Paul Krugman wrote a column in which he pointed out that states governed with an anti-tax, “deficit hawk” philosophy have a pattern of providing a substandard public school education for its children. He called out Texas in particular —

The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

Along with this, the Economist via Scott Lemieux posted some figures showing that students from the five states that have completely eliminated teacher collective bargaining rights — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia — tend to have very below-average standardized test results. Scott withdrew these numbers, however, because he decided they were faulty, and are also based on very old data. Here is the original data, if you want to look.

Anyway, a rightie blogger, Iowahawk, called bullshit on Krugman’s column and on the figures Scott cited and then withdrew. Iowahawk argues that the reason Texas looks bad compared to Wisconsin is that Wisconsin has a much smaller percentage of racial minority students than does Texas, and if you compare student test scores by race, you see that Texas beats Wisconsin. In other words, Texas white kids outscore Wisconsin white kids, and the only reason the Wisconsin school system ranks higher than Texas’s is that Wisconsin has a much higher percentage of white kids. And yeah, there’s more than a whiff of racism here, but data is data.

Iowahawk is getting his data from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education. The center has data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which appears to be a standardized test administered to 4th and 8th grade students nationwide. And I’m going to assume he is accurately representing the figures he got from NCES.

If you go to this page you can get simple graphics for each state showing how the state’s test scores compare to the national average. The states all along the southern border, including California, are below average, except for Texas, which is just exactly average. So, compared to neighboring states, Texas does pretty well. (Note — here and throughout, I’m only looking at 4th grade scores, because I’m short of time to go into this further. But I think the 4th grade scores give us a good general comparison.)

States above the Mason Dixon line tend to have above-average test scores, with a few exceptions — Oregon, Illinois, and Michigan are struggling. And note that Oregon is slightly “whiter” than Wisconsin — the racial demographics are very similar — but the most recent test scores are closer to those of Texas, around average.

I assume the southernmost states have a much higher percentage of English as a Second Language (ESL) students than the northern states, and I assume that could have some impact on standardized test scores, although I don’t know that for a fact.

My quibbles — First off, the data I would like to see, and which the NCES does not appear to provide, would compare groups by income level, not race. I postulate there is at least as strong a correlation, if not stronger, between income disparity and test disparity than you would find for race. The racial disparity you see in some states would be a reflection of the income disparity.

And repeat after me: Correlation is not proof of causation.

I suspect also that Texas has a higher percentage of what might be called the “upper income” middle class — not rich, but comfortable — compared to next door neighbor states — Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico — all of which fare worse compared to national test results than Texas.

Texas public school spending per pupil statewide is not that high compared to other states, but I’d bet there is a big difference in per pupil spending between wealthy suburbs and the colonias along the Mexican border. And I postulate that the suburbs of Dallas and Houston have a high enough tax basis to support pretty decent public schools — about half of the money that pays for pubic schools in Texas comes from local sources, which would be property taxes and, I assume, school bonds.

(Yes, California has wealth, too, and worse test scores than Texas. But California shot itself in the foot by drastically limiting property taxes awhile back. Before Proposition 13, California had the best public schools in the nation. Now a much higher percentage of pubic school costs are paid by the state, which doesn’t help the state budget any.)

Anyway, it might be illuminating to line up data from Texas and Wisconsin that compared test results of students from families with the same level of income. I postulate you would see that Wisconsin is providing a better education to its lower-income residents, a large part of which are rural whites.

And for what it’s worth — Wisconsin has a slightly higher median household income than Texas — $52,094 to $50,043, or ranked 21 and 27, respectively, among the states. Texas has a much bigger percentage of population below the poverty level, however — 15.8% compared to Wisconsin’s 10.4%; the two states ranking 8 and 38 in poverty level. My theory is that Texas has lots of impoverished communities with substandard schools, dragging down the statewide assessment scores.

Conservatives like to claim that there’s no correlation between per pupil spending and educational results, but lets take a look at that. This chart ranks per-pupil spending per state, and there’s a big difference between the top spending state and the bottom. The guy who compiled the chart wants to make the case that spending doesn’t matter, because, he says, there’s no correlation between per pupil spending and SAT scores.

However, I’ve seen an argument that the SAT scores are not necessarily a good indicator of a school system’s performance, since not everyone takes the SAT. And, interestingly, studies have found a strong correlation between family income levels and SAT test results; the higher the family income, the higher the test scores.

I wish I had the time to line up the per-pupil spending chart with the test data from NCES, because I suspect there is at least some correlation there. The states with the highest per-pupil spending — Vermont, Wyoming, New Jersey, New York, and Maine — all have above average results, especially Vermont and New Jersey. And New Jersey has lots of those ethnic minorities that allegedly pull down scores. As I remember, some school districts in New Jersey have very high percentages of ESL students, but I don’t know how the state overall would compare to Texas.

The states with the lowest per-pupil spending — California, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah — are less impressive. Utah — a much “whiter” state than Texas, note — is around average — slightly below average in reading, just a hair above average in science and mathematics. Wikipedia says Utah is 95.20% white, so if race were such a strong factor in test scores, you’d think Utah would be above average. It ain’t.

Nevada — also a “whiter” state than Texas, although not as much as Utah — is way below average in everything.

And unrelated to income, there’s another aspect of Texas that you have to factor in, which is the infamous Texas TAKS system. The biggest reason textbook publishers for years have had to create “Texas edition” textbooks is that Texas has its own assessment system, and lessons plans and textbooks must “teach to the test.” The teacher’s editions of Texas textbooks — which I have helped to produce — are filled with standardized test directions that don’t appear in the national editions. So one would expect Texas students to have an edge with assessment tests. Whether than translates into a better overall education is a point to be debated.

Getting back to the argument of whether teacher’s unions help or hinder education — three of the the five “no arbitration whatsoever” states — South and North Carolina and Georgia — have mostly below average standardized test scores (North Carolina has above average reading scores though). Texas, as I’ve said, is average. Virginia, however, is above average. Again, one suspects median income has something to do with that — Virginia ranks eighth among all states in median household income.

So what are we learning here? First, racial demographics by themselves are no excuse for poor public schools. We can find nearly all-white states with below average schools and racially mixed states with above average schools.

I postulate there is some correlation between per-pupil spending and NAEP scores, although I don’t have time to run through all the numbers. There does appear to be a strong correlation between median household income and NAEP scores, but again, I don’t have time to work that out for every state.

And does any of this show what effect teacher’s unions have on education? I don’t think so. That’s not to say there isn’t an impact, but you can’t see it by looking at the state-level data. There are too many other variables from one state to another.

When Reality and Expectation Don’t Meet

This is actually funny. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute for years has been a big promoter of “school choice,” meaning he thinks parents should get vouchers so that taxpayers can pay for their private school education. He has an op ed in today’s New York Times called “Why Charter Schools Fail the Test” about the effectiveness of the Milwaukee voucher program, which has been in effect since 1990.

A recent comprehensive study found Milwaukee “voucher” kids, many of whom attend charter schools, do no better on standarized tests than kids who stay in the public schools. Reports like this come out from time to time, and righties always explain them away. But for once Murray seems willing to accept defeat —

This is just one of several evaluations of school choice programs that have failed to show major improvements in test scores, but the size and age of the Milwaukee program, combined with the rigor of the study, make these results hard to explain away.

Then comes the next paragraph —

So let’s not try to explain them away. Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another?

And from there, Murray goes on to extol the glories of “school choice,” free of the need to weigh down the sales pitch with tiresome stuff about “facts” and “proof.” Charter schools are better just because they must be better.

If my fellow supporters of charter schools and vouchers can finally be pushed off their obsession with test scores, maybe we can focus on the real reason that school choice is a good idea.

The real reason seems to be that charter schools teach what parents want their kids taught. The “greater good” of tax money supporting an educated public doesn’t enter into it, he admits. “The supporters of school choice need to make their case on the basis of that shared parental calculation, not on the red herring of test scores.”

Test scores don’t mean anything, anyway, he says —

This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.

From here he goes to a study done in 1966 that shows all of these factors don’t change test scores. Of course, when someone has to go back more than 40 years to find a study that matches his conclusions, there’s probably a rat around to be smelled. Sure enough, a few seconds of googling turned up a whole bunch of studies done since 1966 that showed a strong correlation between smaller class sizes and higher test scores.

He also argues that the biggest determinant of how well a kid does in school is his home environment, anyway.

What happens in the classroom can have some effect, but smart and motivated children will tend to learn to read and do math even with poor instruction, while not-so-smart or unmotivated children will often have trouble with those subjects despite excellent instruction. If test scores in reading and math are the measure, a good school just doesn’t have that much room to prove it is better than a lesser school.

But if a “good” school cannot prove by any objective measure that it is better than a “lesser” school, what then is the real difference between “good” and “lesser”? Other than the subjective views of the observer, of course?

Murray’s final pitch is that it doesn’t matter whether vouchers increase the quality of education. What matters is that the purpose of tax money for schools is to fulfill the desires of parents, not to benefit society by providing an educated population.

Charles, fail is fail. Deal with it.

The Trouble With Textbooks

By now you’ve probably heard that the Texas Board of Education has adopted standards for Texas public school textbooks that only a wingnut could love. Texas public school children will now be taught revisionist “history” and fundamentalist Christian propaganda in place of actual facts. They’ve even eliminated Thomas Jefferson. See also “Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change” in the New York Times and “Revisionaries” at Washington Monthly.

As Steve M. says, actual scholars were absent from the process. I doubt they were invited.

I will be interested to see how the textbook industry responds to this. Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the nation; Number One is California. In the past, we could probably have counted on the California adoption committee to nix the Texas revisions and demand a normal textbook. But I understand California public schools will not be buying new textbooks anytime soon.

Of the other 20 or so other states with textbook adoption policies, none have the market clout to countermand Texas, and most are in the South and Midwest anyway. The liberal northeast and Pacific coast states mostly allow local school boards to make textbook purchase decisions. Right now upper-level managers of U.S. textbook publishers no doubt are having long, intensive meetings and phone conferences trying to decide what to do about Texas.

For many years, textbook publishers have cranked out state-specific editions that meet individual adoption states’ guidelines, but the differences between state and national editions were mostly minor tweaks accommodated by black plate changes in the press run. Usually this meant that all editions had the same layout and illustrations, but where there had to be state-specific text, the black plate would be changed for the state print run, and the magenta, cyan, and yellow plates would stay in place. (See explanation of four-color process if this is confusing.) Years ago I did work on a social studies series in which the Texas and national editions had one chapter entirely different, but that was unusual.

However, since black plate changes are avoided as much as possible for the sake of economy, what Texas and California want in their textbooks influences everyone’s textbooks. Text is carefully written (by contracted development houses that work for all the publishers) to mince around anything that would piss off adoption committees, insuring that the text is thin, tasteless but non-controversial gruel. But the pictures are nice.

But this time the Texas revisions are so extensive I don’t see how the black plate change dodge alone would work. Publishers are likely to end up with books that are unsalable anywhere but in Texas and a few other, mostly rural, states. It is possible publishers will choose to publish Texas editions that are substantially different from national and other state editions. This will crank up the cost of individual textbooks even more than they are already, but the publishers may feel they don’t have a choice. I doubt anyone will choose to opt out of the Texas market.

I also think that someday big, behemoth textbook series will become as extinct as dinosaurs, and instead teachers will rely more on electronic content and on-demand printed literature, small print runs printed with newer digital technology instead of the big honking CMYK web presses. We’re not quite there yet, though.

Leaving NCLB Behind?

The Obama Administration wants “sweeping” changes in the Bush Administrations misbegotten “No Child Left Behind” act that wreaked havoc on our schools and, yes, caused more children to be left behind. Here is background from the Mahablog archives on why NCLB is much more of a toxin than a tonic for American education.

Of course, on the Right, the Administration is merely caving in to the teacher’s unions. Don Suber, a man robustly dedicated to remaining ignorant of just about everything, writes, “Whatever the teachers unions want, the teachers unions get, and baby the teachers unions want children to be left behind.” Obviously Suber got left behind somewhere, but we all agree there is plenty of room for improvement in the nation’s public schools. For this reason, education policies need to be crafted to improve public education, not hamstring it.

At Huffington Post, former teacher Eric Tipler analyzes what we know about the Obama Administration’s proposed reforms and is mostly impressed.

Sorta kinda related — Ross Douthat tries to argue that “abstinence only” sex education really works just as well as sex education that includes contraceptive information, even though empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Of course, his ultimate point is that the federal government should get out of the sex ed biz altogether and leave decisions about sex ed in schools to local communities.

But as part of his argument that teaching contraceptives doesn’t reduce teenage pregnancies, either, in spite of the fact that it does, he links to an Alan Guttmacher study that allegedly says school sex ed doesn’t change sexual behavior, period. But I looked at the study Douthat links to, and that’s not what it says. “There was particularly strong evidence that four groups of programs are effective at reducing sexual risk-taking or pregnancy,” the study says, and one of those four groups of programs is “sex and HIV education programs with certain qualities.” Later, it explain that one of those qualities was emphasizing the importance of avoiding unprotected sex. Emphasis added.

Naughty Douthat. But this kind of illustrates a weird quirk in the rightie brain — actual results don’t matter. If they like a program because it comprises their values, then it’s a good program, and disastrous results don’t change that.

Are Righties Giving Up on School “Choice”?

Greg Anrig writes at Washington Monthly that conservatives are abandoning the cause of school vouchers. Eighteen years have gone by since Milwaukee began its voucher program, and many other programs have been in effect for nearly that long. And finally some school voucher cheerleaders are admitting the programs neither helped low-achieving students nor improved public schools through “competition.”

Even more critical for the Right, school vouchers simply didn’t pan out as an effective political weapon to use against “liberals.” In particular, lots of those middle-class, small-town white folks the Right thinks they own did not want some gubmint program messing with the local public schools. In many of those towns the public schools (and the schools’ varsity sports programs) are the hub of the community. If you’re from a small middle-America town, as I am, you probably know what I’m talking about. Interesting that right-wing political leaders didn’t figure that out themselves.

Anrig also points out that whenever there’s been a statewide referendum on school vouchers, the voucher programs lost. And they usually lost big.

Now if we can just kneecap No Child Left Behind, maybe we can start focusing on real solutions to the problem of poor public schools.

On the other hand, Steve Benen says Florida Republicans didn’t get the memo and are still trying to sneak in a voucher system via deceptive constitutional amendment initiatives.

Selling Our Children

A Daily Kos diarist named teacherken discusses a new book by Linda Perlstein, Tested, on the massive ripoff known as No Child Left Behind:

… in a discussion about how companies are profiting from No Child Left Behind, Perlstein recounts [elementary school principal Ernestine] McKnight’s experience at attending a presentation at a principals’ conference of a vendor who had been brought into her school during the 2005-2006 year using the success of Tyler Heights in its promotion. She was furious because they were implying they were responsible for the success in 2004-2005:

    Like these guys had anything to do with third-grade math proficiency jumping 24 points? Fourth-grade reading jumping 49? p. 195

She was too polite to make a public scene, even when the vendors pointed her out to the audience. This anecdote is presented at the end of a section where Perlstein has explored the costs of NCLB in transfers of funds to the private sector, starting with the gross costs in the billions, tracing through the connections of individuals like Neil Bush and people who had helped promote in implement NCLB in the government like Sandy Kress and Gene Hickok to the individual consultants and firms McKnight had had to hire under pressure from the school system. Thus the elements of distortion and possible corruption are placed in a context beyond that of the mere numbers of dollars.

This reminded me of the article about NCLB in the current issue of Harper’s. I checked to see if it is online yet. Sorta; in PDF form. There’s always interesting stuff in Harper’s but they do make it hard to share it online. The article, “The Big Enchilada,” is by Jonathan Kozol. Here’s a chunk of it, at least (emphasis added).

The next and more ambitious stage in the introduction of the private market and its values into public schools did not become possible until the voucher advocates made the well-timed marketing decision to renounce the terminology of “vouchers” and to forgo temporarily their efforts to assume the outright ownership of schools. They settled instead for the management of schools that technically remained within the public sector. Newly created corporations, which characteristically adopted such academically impressive names as “Nobel Learning” or “Edison Schools,” began convincing officials in minority districts– first Miami, later Chicago, then Baltimore, Philadelphia, and many other cities–to contract with them to operate at first a few, then larger numbers, of their schools. At present, forty-one Philadelphia public schools are being run by Edison and another profit-making firm, along with a handful of nonprofit private groups. Almost simultaneously, as states were pressured to test and measure children more relentlessly, to institute the same “goal-setting” mechanisms that are used in private industry, the testing affiliates of some of our largest textbook publishers, as well as the major test-prep companies (The Princeton Review and Kaplan, for example), began to move into our public schools, primarily in urban areas. By 2005, the schools were generating $2.8 billion a year for the testing industry.

In both these areas–testing services and the management of schools–the encroachment of the private sector on public education has been mightily assisted by provisions that the Bush Administration managed to insert into the No Child Left Behind Act. Among the various “sanctions” that this highly controversial law imposes upon low performing schools are two provisions that have opened up these schools to interventions by private corporations on a scale that we have never before seen in the United States. The first of these provisions stipulates that if a school receiving federal funds under what is known as “Title I,” the nation’s largest program of assistance for low-income students, fails to raise its test scores by a fixed percentage within three years, it must then use a portion of its funds to purchase what the government describes as “supplemental services.” These services must be provided outside of the normal school day and, among other options, by a so called third-party provider.

Although such “services” are defined somewhat ambiguously, most low-income districts have interpreted the term to mean that they must force these schools to institute test-preparation regimens geared explicitly toward raising scores on state exams. Increasingly, too, schools have been pressured into contracts with private corporations that provide these services. Meanwhile, the test-prep companies are actively promoting their success in raising scores to principals who live in terror of the more alarming second stage of federal sanctions they will otherwise incur.

If, despite their expensive test-prep programs, low-performing schools fail to pump up test scores fast enough to meet specific goals within five years, school boards are obliged to shut them down and dismiss their faculties and principals. Such schools will then be either operated directly by the state or reconstituted under an “alternative governance arrangement.”

Although the provider of such “governance” might be a nonprofit corporation (one that operates a chain of semi-private charter schools, for instance), it is the profit-making firms, with their superb promotional machinery, that are best positioned to obtain these valuable contracts. It is this prospect–and the even more appealing notion that companies that start by managing these schools might at some future point achieve the right, through changes in state laws, to own the schools as well–that helps explain why EMOs like Edison, which has yet to tum a profit, nonetheless attract vast sums of venture capital. The “big enchilada” represented by the corporate invasion of public schools, even if it takes place only in progressive stages, is sufficiently enticing to investors to keep the money flowing in anticipation of a time when private corporations will not merely nibble at the edges of the public system but will devour it altogether.

No Child Left Behind, with its draconian emphasis on high-stakes testing as the sole determinant of failure or success within a given school, was signed into law in 2002. The warning period for the first wave of low performing schools is now coming to an end. Thousands of schools that exclusively serve black and Hispanic children have failed to meet their federally mandated goals.

All of these schools, under the stipulations of No Child Left Behind, will soon be ripe for picking by private corporations. Progressive citizens who say they believe in public education, as well as the erstwhile liberal Democratic leadership in the U.S. House and Senate, have failed to recognize and confront this looming crisis. Meanwhile, the richly funded and well-oiled juggernaut of privatization continues to move forward, carving out increasingly large pieces of the public system. If those of us who profess to value public schools and the principle of democratic access they uphold cannot find the courage or the motivation to fight in their defense, we may soon wake up to find that they have been replaced by wholly owned subsidiaries of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wal-Mart. Some $490 billion (4 percent of GNP) is spent on education yearly in the United States. It will be an act of social suicide if liberals blithely continue to dismiss the opportunities this vast amount of money represents for corporate predation.

At Daily Kos, Teacherken writes,

Schools in which students arrive at school with strong language skills, from upper middle class backgrounds, do not have to worry so much about their scores. In fact, unless they are designated as a Title I school (with a significant number of economically poor students) they have little to fear from the sanctions of failing to make AYP.

This isn’t just about allowing Neil Bush and others in the private sector education industry to make tons of money. It could lead to outright corporate takeover of schools teaching mostly minority and immigrant children. No doubt those children will be well-prepared for “careers” in the food service, custodial and retail sectors.