‘No Child Left Behind’ creates a fairytale ending for Houston schools, only to have corruption exposed
Last month, Texas received a No Child Left Behind waiver. Signed into federal law in 2002, the bill established a baseline for every student in the nation, promising to penalize states that couldn’t push students to the standard.
As the fall comes to a close, that standard’s been thrown a bone: only the worst-scoring institutions will find themselves punished.
The Houston Press’ Margaret Downing saw a case of clear intentions.
“Originally, the idea of No Child Left Behind was that by using standardized testing, the weak areas in a student’s education could be discovered and rectified. Like a diagnostic test on a car’s engine, problems would be identified and repaired. Teachers would be retrained to become better educators. No child, especially no minority child, would be overlooked, and because of that, minority leaders bought into the change big time,” Downing said.
It wasn’t rocket science. Every student would, or should, have passed the respective territory’s standardized exams; TAKS, in Texas’ case, until it was replaced by STAAR. Neither test was particularly difficult for better-off districts, but these weren’t exactly the districts the bill had been drafted for. The rift between “good” and “bad” was so great that the state all but dissolved entire junctures for its inability to improve its respective situations.
When the grades came back, there was no median. Pulling positive results in Katy ISD was one thing, but the further officials delved into the Interstate 610 loop, the quicker the figures began to decline.
At some point, the numbers themselves turned abruptly — a story-book improvement. Areas infamous for inner school debauchery turned clean comparatively overnight. Schools with a large amount of immigrant, single parent and previously incarcerated enrollments shed the connotations those environments entailed, turning out test results rivaling cleaner-cut ends of the city.
Clear Lake was as fluent as Brazos. The Third Ward rivaled the Fourth. Our national dropout rate in this country hangs between 20 and 40 percent at any given time, and, in the early 2000s, several schools in Houston reported no dropouts.
Former President Bush called it “The Texas Miracle.”
Our city served as the sterling example of mind over sociological displacement over matter. HISD Superintendent Rod Paige was given credit for the city’s success. Once Bush took office, Paige rode the wave of encouragement into a position as Secretary of Education.
Texas — or, more specifically, Houston — became a face in the nation’s education conversation. Like most things too good to be true, it eventually turned up rotten.
Sharpstown High School Assistant Principal Robert Kimball watched the ascent. His own institution sat in one of Houston’s rougher patches, but it seemed to have found a position in the upheaval. It just looked strange.
So he plugged the numbers, pulled records and did some sleuthing of his own.
“A fantasy land,” Kimball said to the New York Times. “They want the data to look wonderful and exciting. They don’t tell you how to do it; they just say, ‘do it.’”
Three years after the heralding, with Kimball’s assistance, KHOU popped the bubble. Sharpstown High had falsified its dropout data. The Texas Miracle was about as fantastical as it’d sounded.
The news break led to an audit of the area, and after evaluating more than 16 schools, investigators found that of 5,500 teenagers surveyed who had “left” school, 3,000 should have been counted as dropouts but were not.
In early August, the state appointed a monitor to oversee the district’s data collection and downgraded 14 audited schools to the state’s lowest rating. The “miracle” state had once again become the model for disengagement.
The bust instigated more frequent audits, which incited more revelations, which weren’t at all comely.
Over time, the city developed a skin for it: an expectation that certain schools simply just weren’t getting better, ever, and there was nothing we could do about it.
As of Sept. 30, only the bottom 15 percent under NCLB’s criteria will suffer, which is good news and bad. Houstonians should be glad that their educators no longer have to falsify records to put food on the table, but the federal intervention should make us more wary of the circumstances these kids are coming from and the measures being taken to circumvent them.
Every kid learns differently, and setting a standard’s difficult to begin with. What’s more incredulous is disregarding their ability to achieve entirely.
Less than any sort of reprieve, the bill’s repeal is more akin to a concession. If it’s only temporary, the state and the city of Houston have conceded that their economic and social circumstances simply aren’t on par with the nation’s.
We cried “bloody murder” once, and the pleas were heeded. The next one is on us.
Senior staff writer Bryan Washington is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]