I've found it very interesting looking at NCLB from an activity theory framework and have a dissertation underway that looks at teacher practices in the era of NCLB from a CHAT perspective. I've found a preliminary release of Engestrom's discussion on Values, objects and rubbish, (Chapter 6 in DEVELOPMENTAL WORK RESEARCH: EXPANDING ACTIVITY THEORY IN PRACTICE) useful in support of this work.
I was most surprised at the lack of literature from an activity theory perspective on this topic.
----- Original Message -----
From: David H Kirshner
Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2005 9:26 PM
Subject: NCLB: First graders will be left behind-PART I
Some somber reading.
From Substance, September-December, 2004, p. 24,20.21. Article was
typed from the original article in Substance and proof read.
THIS IS PART I OF TWO PARTS.
Today's first graders: The Children No Child Left Behind will Leave Behind
By Ken Goodman
[Kenneth S. Goodman, one of the world's foremost authorities on how
children learn to read, is Professor Emeritus, Language, Reading and
Culture, University of Arizona. This article was sent to Substance
October 18, 2004. ]
Parents of children starting first grade this year may not be ready
for what the No Child Left Behind law has in store for their children
over the next ten years. Beginning first graders are or will shortly
be six years old.
This federal law reaches its full effects in 2014 when these children
become 16, the age in most states when students can legally leave
school. During those years under NCLB their scores on a single test
will dominate their school experience. Under NCLB the federal
* Every state must test all pupils in all schools in reading and math
and starting in 2007-8 in science. The state must set a proficiency
level for the test.
* Each school must "disaggregate" pupils into a number of sub-groups.
Criteria include race, ethnic group, income level, second language
learners and various categories of special education. Pupils maybe in
more than one group, for example, Black, Hispanic and poor.
* 95% of the pupils in each group must take the test or the school is
* Every sub-group of pupils is expected to make "Adequate Yearly
Progress" each year or the school is failing.
* If a local school district has one failing school it is labeled a
* In the first year at least 20% of each group must have scores at or
above the proficiency score for the school to meet the requirement of
adequate yearly progress.
* Each state must set successively higher requirements each year for
the percent of each group scoring proficient to meet AYP
* And in 2014, when this year's first graders are legally able to
leave school in most states, 100% of students in all groups must
score at the proficient level in reading, math and science on an
approved test. In Lake Wobegone, Garrison Keillor's mythical
Minnesota town, all the children are above average. Under NCLB, by
2014 all children must be scoring proficient, a term which now
applies to the top 20% of all those taking the test. Even those most
severely disabled must miraculously achieve this unreachable score.
Mandated Punishments under NCLB
NCLB is a highly punitive law. It provides for severe punishments for
failing schools, school districts and even states.
School punishments. If a school is failing for more than two years
the school district is: required to permit parents to request
transfer of their children to a non-failing school in the district at
district expense. Parents of kids in failing schools may also request
the school district to provide private tutoring at district expense.
If the school continues to fail AYP, drastic measures are required
including reopening as a public charter school; replacing all or most
of the staff (which may include the principal); making a contract for
operation of the public school by a "public or private entity" or
takeover by the state.
School District Punishments
States are also required to punish failing school districts under
NCLB. The law requires:
(1) deferring programmatic funds or reducing administrative funds;
(2) instituting and fully implementing a new curriculum, including
providing appropriate professional development based on
scientifically based research;
(3) replacing district personnel;
(4) removing particular schools from local jurisdiction, establishing
alternative arrangements for such schools' public governance and
(5) appointing a receiver or trustee to administer LEA affairs in
place of the superintendent and school board.
Under NCLB what controls a child's school experience passes from the
teacher and the local school board to bureaucrats in Washington. If
the law is allowed to remain in place as it is currently being
implemented until it reaches its full effect in 2014 many of today's
first graders will be left behind or left out.
Here's what the law will do to the school careers of this year's first graders.
*A third of the schools the beginners enter this year across the
country have already been labeled as failing, many for two years
which means they are under penalties.
*First graders will be quickly tested and sorted according to their
likelihood of failing in reading, writing and math. Many will have
already been tested and classified in kindergarten.
*Much of the time in the first grade will be spent on specific
practice for the tests. There will be little or no art, music, social
studies and play.
*Many first graders are likely to rebel at going to school and cry or
fall asleep in school.
*Children will encounter teachers desperately trying to meet the
needs of their students while under severe constraints to teach to
the tests and follow a narrow methodology.
*Starting 2005-6, all states will be required to test all children in
third to eighth grade.
*In second grade next year some children will be failed to keep them
from pulling down school scores in the third grade.
*Many of this year's first graders will fail a grade before they
reach middle school.
*Two-thirds or more of the middle schools will have been labeled
failing one or more years by the time this year's first graders get
*Many dedicated and experienced middle school teachers will have
moved to primary grades or left teaching because they are judged
unqualified under NCLB to teach subjects in which they lack a degree.
*The curriculum in their middle school years will focus even more on
preparation for tests and content getting the children ready for high
*A third or more of this year's first graders will have failed one or
more grades before they finish middle school.
*This is likely to include disproportionate numbers of poor children,
immigrants and those of color.
*By the time this year's first graders finish middle school it is
likely that they will have attended a school under severe punishment
that includes narrowing the curriculum, replacing the entire faculty
and administrators or turning the school over to a private company.
*Middle school classes will include substantial numbers of unhappy,
sullen, overage pupils.
*Many children will have been suspended or expelled before they
finish middle school.
*Special education and second language learners may become so old in
middle school that they may drop out without finishing 8th grade.
*There is little chance this year's first graders will attend a high
school not labeled as failing.
*High Schools will have curtailed or eliminated music, art, physical
education, and vocational programs.
*No pass no play rules will keep many students out of sports, bands,
performing arts, and club and special interest activities.
*Many experienced high school teachers will have left teaching
because they are labeled unqualified by NCLB or because they oppose
the restrictions on their teaching in the law.
*Those replacing them will have degrees or have passed a test in the
subjects they teach but have little professional education.
*In high school there will be many severe discipline problems and an
increase in suspensions and expulsions.
*Rural high schools will be forced to drop subjects because of a lack
of qualified teachers under NCLB.
*Some rural schools may close altogether requiring students to be
transported long distances to and from school.
*Half or more of today's first graders will leave school before they
graduate high school depending on the community. Many will not even
get through tenth grade.
*By 2014 many of today's first graders, particularly in cities and
suburbs will be attending schools run by for-profit corporations.
Private schools of highly variable quality will mushroom in middle
and upper income communities.
*Application of NCLB to these schools and to charter schools will
vary from state to state.
*Funds for the remaining public schools will be greatly diminished as
voucher systems are enacted which divert funds to private schools.
How will NCLB produce such dismal results?
NCLB has changed first grade more than any other grade and the
changes will become more universal as the laws provisions become more
controlling each year. The law dictates how reading, writing and math
are taught and tested. Each state must have a proposal approved by
bureaucrats in Washington D.C. who may reject methods, materials and
curriculum not endorsed as "evidence based" and who may order changes
which are then imposed by the state on local schools. This year Texas
is threatened with losing their NCLB money because they don't yet
have an approved plan.
Under NCLB, state authorities are told which materials, which tests
and which methods their teachers may use. This year's first graders
are more likely to spend much of their school day on phonics
exercises and preparations for tests on reading skills with little
time for reading stories and children's books. Writing instruction is
likely to be spelling, handwriting and grammar exercises with little
time for writing stories and written expression.
Approved state plans must provide for testing children in
kindergarten or early first grade with mandated quick tests scored by
the test producer. An example is the Dibels.
In New Mexico the teachers enter responses on a palm pilot which
sends the answers to the state which then passes them on to the
company for scoring the Dibels in Oregon. What comes back is a list
of first graders labeled in terms of their chance of failure. The
list dictates to the teacher how to group the pupils for instruction.
With NCLB's heavy focus on reading, writing and math, little time in
the first grade is available for social studies, music, art and
physical education. Science is minimal. Even recess is being
eliminated in some schools to give more time to prepare for the
tests. Teachers are given little discretion over how to deal with
differences in learners since all must pass the same tests at the
same levels. That means that children who pull down the group and
can't keep up or can't get a high enough score on the tests will be
forced to repeat the grade and eventually forced out of school.
Part II to follow shortly.
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