Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Leaving Children Behind

Both Bruce Prescott and Lashawn Barber have commented that some children may be dropping through the cracks under No Child Left Behind. Well I don't think that is the case.

The situation is this. Under NCLB, schools now have to perform standardized testing and report the results not just for the entire population but for ethnic sub groups. Even if the general population's results meet requirements, if a sub population fails, then the school fails. Naturally, this may cause problems.

The scandal is that there is a clause in NCLB that says "if you don't have a statistically significant number of students in an ethnicity you don't have to report it". This usually translates to 20 to 30 kids. And since minorities tend to exhibit below average performance, many schools are not reporting them separately whenever they have a good excuse.

This phenomenon has lead to several people coming forward and saying "NCLB is disenfranchising minority kids. Why don't our kids count too?" I have several problems with this:
  1. These kids are still being included in any summary statistics for the whole school. They aren't dropping off the face of the earth, they just aren't being broken out into their own subgroup because there aren't enough of them.
  2. This is a good loophole. My high school had a total of maybe ten minority kids. We had a couple of asians, two or three black families, and a hispanic family. That isn't enough kids to make any sort of representative statistical distribution. A point is not a distribution. And since the results are public you probably know who that one point is and the childs legally required anonymity is compromised.
  3. If they can't get a large enough student population in each individual school, then they go to the district level to get a large enough population. This is the obvious first run fix for the problem.
  4. Prior to NCLB, federal law didn't require them to break minority students scores out anywhere! So while some schools may be abusing the loophole, the net effect of NCLB is completely positive because at least some minority kids aren't slipping through the cracks anymore.
So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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