Re: First graders will be left behind-PART I

From: J. Mark Jackson (
Date: Fri Jan 28 2005 - 11:20:00 PST


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.
  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
  government requires:

  * 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
  labeled failing
  * 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
  failing district.
  * 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
  supervision; 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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