must be accountability of schools, teachers, and students. We must
help schools that are not achieving and, ultimately, intervene in
schools that cannot improve. Students play a role in their own
education. A student who blows off school must experience a
consequence of that, or there will be an inadequate motivation
for students in general. We must have the courage to fail a school
that does not properly teach the standards or a student who will
not learn what the school is teaching.
Because I do
believe so passionately in these principles, I am especially
frustrated that the federal government has made such a mess of
Let's start with
the ways schools are evaluated. Arizona, like many other states,
has a fair and accurate system for evaluating schools. The federal
system is unfair, inaccurate, and completely dysfunctional. I
am constantly telling parents, reporters, and audiences that
in judging schools one should focus on the state achievement
profile and ignore the federal.
system divides the world into nine ethnic and other subgroups and
tests two subjects, in seven grades, with two measures: percent
proficient and whether or not at least 95 percent were tested.
If a school falls below standard on any one measure, the entire
school fails, no matter how well the school did on all of the other
With all of these
categories, how many combinations and permutations are there?
How many ways are there to fail? To pass the Arizona high school
high-stakes math exam, you would have to know the formula for that.
You multiply the numbers together: 9 x 7 x 2 x 2 = 252. There
is an additional measure that varies by states. That makes a total
I call this the
253 ways to fail system. If a school falls short on one (let's say
it tests 94 percent rather than 95 percent of fourth grade special
education students) and succeeds spectacularly on the other 252
(the highest test scores in the state), the entire school still
We have a school
in the Tucson area, Catalina Foothills High School, that is an
excelling school under the state system. Its test scores are
extremely high: 95 percent of its 10th graders are proficient in
reading, and the students are in the 96th percentile on the
nationally normed test. But the individual education plans of some
of its students require non-standard accommodations on the test.
The federal Department of Education has ruled that a student being
given a non-standard accommodation not only cannot be counted as
proficient, but is counted as not having taken the test at all.
That means that less than 95 percent of the special education
students are counted as taking the test, and therefore the
school must fail, regardless of how well it does on everything
The parents know
how good their school is. The fact that the federal government
fails it for an irrational reason brings the concept of
accountability into disrepute.
Now let me give
you an example that is the equivalent of huge piles of fish rotting
on the dock because someone in the bureaucracy did not provide
for it to be marketed. There has been a tidal wave of illegal
immigration into Arizona, and we have over 100,000 students that
are English Language Learners. (Parenthetically, despite this,
and a comparatively high poverty rate, the average for Arizona
students is about five points above the national average on the
nationally normed TerraNova test, in part due to our statewide
emphasis on academic rigor in the classroom.)
Under the Arizona
system of accountability, which predated No Child Left Behind,
schools had three years to bring English Language Learners up to
speed: first to proficiency in English so that they could learn in
English and then to academic proficiency so that they could
pass the academic tests in English. An initiative passed by the
voters prevented us from testing them in Spanish. This system
provided more than sufficient incentive for schools to begin
working hard with these students in the first year. They knew that
by the fourth year, the students would have to pass their
academic tests in English or face the possibility of state
The state wanted
its No Child Left Behind agreement to provide the same system:
three years to become proficient in English and in academics in
English, and then the schools would be responsible in the fourth
year. The federal negotiators wanted the schools to be responsible
for having the students pass the tests in one year. There is no
person in the education community anywhere who believes this is
compromise was that the test scores would be counted in the first
year, but any schools not making adequate yearly progress could
appeal, and those appeals would be granted with respect to students
in their first three years of being English Language Learners.
Last year, the
federal government reneged on that agreement. I sued the
government, but I am not talking to you today about my lawsuit. I'm
talking about the policy the federal Department of Education
Rather than give
the three years' grace period that is in the Arizona system and
that federal government had agreed to, it imposed a one-year
grace period, which is now the federal nationwide policy. There is
no recognized expert in the country-not one in the country-who
would say that it is possible to bring a significant
percentage of students coming here from Mexico, or any other
country where English is not the native language, to academic
proficiency in English and able to pass reading and math tests
in English after only one or two years. High standards are
desirable. Requiring something that is impossible is insane.
The impact of
this varies from state to state. Each state has what is referred to
as an "N number" which must be reached before a school will be
responsible for a given subgroup. A common N number is 40. That
means that if there are less than 40 English Language Learners at a
given grade level, the fact that they are not passing the test does
not hurt the school. Therefore, for many states, and many schools,
this irrational rule has no practical impact. However, for schools
where there are over 40 English Language Learners at a given grade
level, the impact is devastating.
What the federal
department is saying is: "No matter how hard you work, and no
matter how smart you work, you are doomed to failure. This is
because you have committed the sin of having more than 40 English
Language Learners in a given grade level." This makes a mockery of
what accountability should be. When the federal government reneged
on its agreement, 150 schools in Arizona that had been succeeding
immediately failed as a result.
There is a school
in northeast Phoenix called the Palomino School whose student
population consists almost entirely of English Language
Learners. Historically, their academic performance was poor, but
recently, they have had a dynamic principal and very dedicated
teachers, and their test scores have soared. They have done well
under the Arizona accountability system, and I went to the school
to congratulate them. What I found was very low morale because they
had failed under the federal system, because every school with more
than 40 English Language Learners in any grade level is doomed to
When the people
at a school perform well, they need to be encouraged. To punch them
in the gut and knock the wind out of their sails is extremely
dysfunctional from the standpoint of the education of the students
at the school. That is exactly what the federal government does to
every school that has more than 40 English Language Learners at any
grade level, even if the staff is doing a terrific job.
Why would anyone
in the federal government do anything as irrational and
dysfunctional as what I have described? For the same reason that
someone in the Soviet bureaucracy would neglect to market the fish
that are caught in the Pacific Ocean. They are not evil people as
individuals. They are simply following a universal law of nature:
If you give a centralized bureaucracy the power to micromanage a
continent-wide, complex system, extreme dysfunction will
Now let me give
you an example to parallel the coal miners that had no soap for
their showers. No Child Left Behind has a characteristic that I
referred to as proficiency obsession. Consider two schools. They
both have the same percentage of students rated as proficient,
but the first school drives every student to his or her
maximum performance level above proficiency, whereas the second
school leaves the students at proficient once they arrive at that
benchmark. It doesn't bother to educate them above proficiency.
Under the federal
system, both schools are treated precisely the same. If you
put a lot of pressure on the schools, as we are doing, and focus on
only one thing, there will be a temptation for the schools to
ignore other things. In the case of No Child Left Behind, they are
forced to focus on the "golden band" of students just below
If schools begin
to neglect the average and brightest students, as I have heard has
happened in some states, that is an educational catastrophe. In
Arizona, we focus not only on how many students reach proficiency,
but on how many students exceed proficiency. Consequently, the
schools have an incentive to work with all of their students, not
just the "golden band" right below proficiency.
I believe the
national focus, if unchanged, will bring a national train wreck. At
Arizona State University, we have a Chinese exchange student.
He was quoted in the paper as saying: "We put 80 percent of our
energy into our top 20 percent of students, and you put 80 percent
of your energy into your bottom 20 percent of students. Who do you
think will win that contest?" Anyone who thinks the United States
will win the contest under those circumstances, please raise your
hand. I don't think so either.
This is one of
about 1,100 examples that I can give you of how state systems are
far more rational than the federal system, but here we are talking
about something much more important than irrationality or
unfairness. We are talking about huge federal pressures against
schools doing everything they can to develop the abilities of the
brightest students. That is crazy.
consequence of proficiency obsession is that it is unfair to
excellent schools in poor neighborhoods. They might move their
students two education years in one calendar year but still
not bring them to the same absolute percentage of proficiency as
even a mediocre school in a rich neighborhood, where the students
bring so much more from home. What needs to be measured is the
value added: where the students were when they started school,
where the students were when they finished that year, and how much
value was added by the school. This is the only fair way to measure
how well the schools are doing. In Arizona, we call this the
"Measure of Academic Progress."
department is beginning to experiment with "growth models,"
which can be similar to a measure of academic progress, but they
require that the measurement be of growth toward proficiency,
whereas in the Arizona model, we measure the growth of all
students, including those who have already achieved
Let's talk about
another way in which No Child Left Behind creates significant
dysfunction in the educational system. It requires states to test
reading, math, and science but not social studies. By social
studies, I refer primarily to history, but also geography,
government, and economics.
Because of the
extreme pressures to achieve proficiency in the subjects that
are tested, many schools teach only what is tested. This means that
the knowledge of history among American students, which has
been abysmally low for many years, has declined precipitously
from even that abysmally low level. Many elementary schools teach
no history at all. Students arrive in middle school not having
heard of Christopher Columbus or George Washington.
A country that
does not know its history is like an individual who has lost his
memory: He does not know where he has been; he does not know where
he is going; and he does not know how to deal with problems. If we
are going to be able to preserve our free institutions, our
citizens must understand their history. If they are going to have
pride in our institutions and want to preserve them, they must
know our history in depth.
I am a proponent
of a curriculum developed by E. D. Hirsch, called Core Knowledge.
Students get a content-rich curriculum in American history, the
Greco-Roman basis for Western civilization, and science beginning
in kindergarten, first and second grades. As they get older, they
can learn history in much greater depth because they have been
exposed to it when they are young.
In the district
where I served on the school board for 24 years prior to becoming
Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, we introduced
the Core Knowledge curriculum for some of our schools beginning in
1996. Students who began school then are now in high school. The
high school teachers are ecstatic that the students have so much
knowledge, that the high school teachers can teach in much greater
I am now, in my
current job, working hard to bring this kind of content-rich
curriculum to the entire state. The Chief Historian for The History
Channel held a news conference in which she stated that it had
reviewed the history standards for all 50 states, and Arizona's
were head and shoulders above the other 49. But I am having
difficulty persuading the Arizona legislature to require that we
test history when No Child Left Behind specifies that we must test
reading, math, and science.
If we don't test
it, these content-rich standards will go into the drawer and be
ignored by many schools. A standard is meaningless unless it is
tested and there is accountability for the results of the test.
Congress deludes itself into thinking it is promoting the teaching
of history by providing some money for history teachers to take
trips. The big issue is this: By requiring testing in reading,
math, and science, but not history, Congress has delivered a
body blow to efforts to teach our students history. The same is
true of the arts.
The last point I
want to make about No Child Left Behind concerns its focus on race
as a defining characteristic of students. I thought that identity
politics of race was a Democratic philosophy and was surprised to
see that come out of a Republican Administration.
I am profoundly
opposed to it philosophically. What matters about a student is what
he can do, what he knows, his character, his ability to
appreciate beauty, and so on, not what race he happens to have
been born into.
Let's say a
school makes Adequate Yearly Progress in all categories, except the
African-American students in a given grade level. This may
single them out in a way that is destructive. In the eyes of the
other students and the community, it is their fault that the school
What is the
principal supposed to do? Go into every classroom and pull out the
African-American students, even though some of them may have done
well academically, for extra work so the school won't fail in that
subgroup the following year? I have heard that this is the type of
thing that happens. I think it is profoundly un-American to
single out students based on their race.
The proponents of
No Child Left Behind say that this categorization is necessary
because in some schools the average is fine, but it hides the fact
that one or another ethnic group is not doing well. But this can be
corrected with nonracial solutions. For example, one could require
that the bottom 20 percent of the school's population make a
certain amount of progress for the school to pass. English Language
Learners is a valid classification. Latino should not be. The
classification should be educational, not racial.
What, then, is
the solution? Maintain the three principles-standards, assessment,
and accountability-but do it in an 11-page bill, not an
1,100-page bill. The House version of the A-PLUS Act
a valuable step in this direction.
And let us finally learn our lesson. There is an iron law of nature
that transcends all nationalities. You can call it Horne's Law if
you wish. If you permit a bureaucracy to micromanage a
continent-wide, complex system, extreme dysfunction will result.
Just ask the Russians.