Michael Cohen is a former superintendent of Brentwood Public Schools and adjunct associate professor of mathematics at Hofstra University.
The onset of a new school year offers us an opportunity to evaluate education's past, its present and its future here on Long Island. And this month offers a unique occasion to do so as we mark the 10th anniversary of George W. Bush's signature education legislation, No Child Left Behind. With broad-based support from Republicans and Democrats, notably the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, the bill promised to level the playing field for all young people -- with an ambitious goal of making all fourth-graders proficient in reading and math by the year 2014.
Much of the evidence cited for the achievability of the bill's goals came from the "Houston Miracle" under the leadership of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Rod Paige, the superintendent of Houston schools who later was to become President Bush's secretary of education. Of course, as was later revealed, the "miracle" could better be described as a "mirage." Educators and politicians joined hands in cooking the books, and by the time the fact was widely known, the damage, in the form of No Child Left Behind, was already done.
So what has NCLB -- as the policy is often called -- cost Long Island taxpayers, directly and indirectly, and what benefits have we accrued?
From a fiscal standpoint, NCLB imposed tremendous strains on local budgets. Districts found themselves forced to participate in costly testing for grades three through eight, spending significant sums of money to hire new personnel with titles such as testing coordinator, testing director, coordinator of data analysis, assistant superintendent for testing and data analysis, academic intervention services (AIS) coordinator and AIS instructor, and so on.
There were also new costs associated with preparing teachers to grade exams, substitutes to cover classes for teachers engaged in test-grading and the grading of exams by BOCES consortia.
You frequently hear complaints about the "top-heavy" nature of central administration on Long Island. While there may be some validity to these assertions, much of this expansion can be traced back to fulfilling No Child Left Behind mandates. The sheer process of distributing testing materials and preparing them for grading can't be overstated. Bear in mind that under NCLB, eighth-graders take as many as nine state examinations.
No Child Left Behind requires that students who do not demonstrate proficiency on state assessments must be provided with academic intervention services -- which means teaching outside that which normally occurs in the classroom. Such activities require supervision, to ensure that students actually receive these services. Supervision and instruction equal money -- money that we all pay in local taxes because, contrary to the stated intent of the policy, the federal government did not fulfill its promise to fully fund the No Child Left Behind mandates.
From a purely instructional standpoint, NCLB established a counterintuitive notion of instructional improvement. Educational studies demonstrate conclusively that time on task in the classroom improves student achievement. Yet No Child Left Behind requires that schools remove teachers from classrooms to grade assessments for up to 10 days a year. That doesn't make sense, but neither does much else that comes from bureaucrats with no concept of teaching or learning.
Aside from a legacy of false promises, millions of dollars in wasted funds, acronyms, bureaucratic nonsense and total confusion, what do the first 10 years of this policy tell us about education on Long Island?
The testing has shown that the effective annual measurable objective (AMO) is the performance index (PI) value that each accountability group within a school or district is expected to achieve to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). The effective AMO is the lowest PI that an accountability group of a given size can achieve in a subject for the group's PI not to be considered significantly different from the AMO for that subject. If an accountability group's PI equals or exceeds the effective AMO, it is considered to have made AYP.
And from that we've learned that students in Long Island's high-needs districts don't do as well on standardized tests as their counterparts in low-needs districts.
What a revelation!