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Universal Proficiency: Possible or Not?


Can the nation meet NCLB's goal of universal proficiency? Yes, says Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon. No, say Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff of the Campaign for Educational Equity.

In a speech this week to the British Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, Simon said that he's visited schools that already have achieved 100 percent proficiency.

"These schools believe that their students can achieve to high standards. These standards, and the expected behavior to reach them, are clearly communicated to the students and their parents. Highly qualified, effective teachers use data to guide instruction daily and they work with an outstanding school-level administrator who has knowledge and authority to effect change, reward innovation and enforce high expectations," Simon said.


While some schools are having such success, it is unreasonable to expect it in every school, according to Rebell and Wolff, whose project based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

"In place of the impossible goal of 100 percent proficiency, Congress should establish as its mandatory goal for 2014 the more achievable aim of providing meaningful educational opportunity for all children by that time," Rebell and Wolff write in their new book, Moving Every Child Ahead: From NCLB Hype to Meaningful Educational Opportunity.

P.S. I can only imagine how confused Simon's British audience must have been. Why would the United States have 50 sets of standards and 50 definitions of proficiency, they must have thought?

P.P.S. Rebell will give a lecture based on his new book at Teachers College on March 5. After the lecture, eduwonkette suggests you pass on dessert.


"Why would the United States have 50 sets of standards and 50 definitions of proficiency...?" Perhaps it has something to do with the notion that we're living under an anachronism that decisions for public schools should be left to local (and state) authorities, as opposed to the federal government. This is the same country that continues to operate its public schools on a two century old agrarian calendar, the same country that was warned a quarter of a century ago that its schools were wallowing in a tide of "mediocrity", the same country that expends enormous sums on a learning disabled population but next to nothing on its future leaders - the gifted and talented, the same country that pays athletes and entertainers millions for their performances but a begrudged pittance to its school teachers, the same country that spends billions on a contrived war yet notoriously underfunds the first major federal education legislation in forty years, the same country where many parents believe they both have to have a career but neither has the energy to read to their child each night at bedtime, and the same country where many high school students do not know the year Columbus discovered America or what the dates were of our Civil War.

100 percent proficiency?

Do we need to continue to put all of our children in a certain box and label them? Developmental differences need to be addresses!

OK, I read most of Simon's speech until I could stomach no more and my eyes rolled back. What a spin job! One can take his speech, paragraph by paragraph, and roll freight trains through it.

Why do we continue to even ask whether universal 100% proficiency keyed to rigorous standards is possible? It is a meaningless question.

One does not have to be the sharpest or brightest crayon in the box to realize that all human attributes fall along a continuum. In ANY realm of human endeavor, challenging standards are those that, by definition, not everyone can meet. If everyone could meet them, they wouldn't be challenging.

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