Duluth tenth graders can right rite

The top story in the DNT’s local section showed that 93 percent of Duluth’s tenth graders can write passably. On a scale from 1 to 6, 3 being passing, all but seven percent pass muster.

This is not to suggest that writing at level 3 is anything special. You wouldn’t want to read a blog written at level 3 but a person can survive in our literate world at this rate.

The NCLB law is not the first effort aimed at pushing low functioning kids to higher levels. Its only innovation is being the first nationalized effort to do so. As a teacher a couple decades ago it began to dawn on me that I had lots of barely literate kids in my social studies classes. Rather than do all my testing with multiple choice tests I began testing my kids with essays. Its one thing to ask kids what caused the civil war in an essay than to offer them the alternatives of A.slavery, B.sectional economic differences, B.Kansas Nebraska Act, D.the banana boycott; to see if kids have learned their history. Many couldn’t and many wouldn’t write anything. Blank answers weren’t necessarily eividence of ignorance of the subject. It was just as likely an indication of their unwillingness to demonstrate their poor writing skills. How far would a kid go to hide such a failing?

Today’s Dear Abby has a letter from a young woman whose 33 year-old boyfriend refuses to do anything about his illiteracy. It raises the age old question of how a child can spend ten or twelve years in school without learning how to do the single most requiement of an education.

Whatever else its flaws NCLB testing is one way to keep a school district focused on student progress so that they don’t fall between the cracks.

It didn’t take passing NCLB to get this done. Fifteen years ago Minnesota adopted a process called “outcome based education” or OBE for short. The idea was simple. Schools would pay more attention to the outcome of a child’s schooling i.e. getting them educated than it would keeping trakc of their seat time (time spent in class). Ironically it was killed by Republicans and their allies for doing exactly what the NCLB is nnow attempting to do – make sure no child falls too far behind his classmates. But the outrage that killed OBE had more to do with the fear that schools would spend all their resources on the worst students by shafting gifted and ambitious kids. This complaint lives on with the Republican inspired NLCB.

OBE was followed by Minnesota’s even more ambitious “Profiles of Learning.”  It had too many cooks, hundreds and thousands of designers made it so complicated that it was almost beyond the public’s comprehension. Again state Republicans led the charge to kill another ed reform. Now Republicans are beginning to rebel anainst President Bush’s NCLB.

Why is it that 7 out of ten Duluth tenth graders can’t write? Some may be newly enrolled foreign students still learning English. Others may be special education students with limited intellectual abilities. Some may have gotten their education in other school districts so that Duluth shouldn’t have to be tagged with their failure. Whatever the reason it should remain a reason and not an excuse. An excuse is one step away from a justification.