The hockey stick dilemma

Written by eduskeptic on October 3rd, 2011

The No Child Left Behind law launched 10 years ago, perhaps with good intentions, perhaps not. It can be compared to jumping out of an airplane, and a few hundred feet later finding out that you don’t actually have a parachute strapped on. Exhilarating, but maybe not such a good ending.

The argument isn’t whether our school systems need to do better. They always do, no matter what. Education is not a static enterprise.

The goals that had to met by schools started out a reasonable point. Each year the expectations increased, and that yearly increase was also a reasonable, reachable goal. Schools did have to focus on the goals and work pretty diligently to meet them, but it could be done.

On a graph, the yearly increases were somewhat like a ramp leading to a classroom. It started at not much, and gradually increased. A few years into the program though, the ramp disappeared. The trajectory shot up at a very steep angle. It very much resembled a hockey stick.

During this time, the Eduskeptic was teaching Kindergarten in a small district in the Sierra, east of Sacramento, California. In meeting after meeting, we went over all the data that we could generate regarding our K through 4 grade levels. Everyone was engaged in this process. We knew what was expected, what we needed to do, argued fiercely over it, and it was kept at the forefront of our planning processes.

As a result, in 2008, the school was awarded the California Distinguished School designation. Pretty cool. The process of educating very young children continued in the same manner as before. Nothing changed. Meeting state and federal expectations continued to be a big part of what we did.

While this was going on, I looked at the graph of expectations, noted where we were, and where we needed to be, over and over again. It was obvious that a train wreck was on the way. The Eduskeptic admits to being mathematically challenged in some higher math areas. One of his Kindergarten colleagues, however, was a math person.

One fine day during one of our Kindergarten recesses, I brought out the graph, with our progress meticulously charted. My reading of the trajectory of our progress relative to the hockey stick of requirements was that we would, at a very definable time, run into the handle of the hockey stick, far short of the requirements. My colleague confirmed what I thought to be true.

There was nothing in our upward trajectory history that indicated that we could ever meet the goals once the line of expectations rocketed upward.

The only way to do it would be to swap out our entire student population and replace it with certified genius level drones. We were going to run into the wall of the hockey stick handle in the 2010-2011 school year, and be in the school improvement boat starting in the 2011-2012 school year.

That was an accurate prediction. Like many other fine schools doing a wonderful job of educating children, the school where the Eduskeptic taught is indeed in the school improvement program, not because of the quality of teaching or make up of the students. It is entirely due to the unrealistic tenents of NCLB. Keep in mind that the fine teachers at this school didn’t all of a sudden take a two year nap. This school, and too many others just like it, has no business being put into such a designation.

Now, though, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have pulled the plug on most of the unattainable requirements of NCLB. To be sure, there are still stringent requirements, and there are some other requirements put in place. The end result seems, at least right now, to be a recognition that mathematics can be a predictor, there is always a bell curve and it cannot be defeated, and, oddly enough, gravity really does work.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.


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