Tuesday, March 06, 2007


(Each "Question of the Week," an idea which I gleaned from A Republic If You Can Keep It, will remain toward the top of the blog until the next question appears. The previous Questions of the Week are HERE. Please scroll down for recent postings)

Quite a controversy has arisen here in some of the school districts in the Washington area. From this February 23, 2007 article in the Washington Post:
The U.S. Education Department threatened yesterday to withhold more than $17 million from Fairfax County schools if the system continues to defy a federal mandate to give reading tests to thousands of immigrant children.

Other Virginia school systems would also be in jeopardy if they refuse to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the state could lose $2 million in administrative funds.

The possible loss of millions of dollars raises the stakes in a months-long standoff between the federal government and a growing group of Virginia educators over the best way to test immigrant students learning English.

The rift in Virginia mirrors a nationwide debate over how to ensure that English-language learners, a fast-growing population in schools, are making progress. When the Education Department rejected Virginia's test, it also found problems with the way 17 other states test English-language learners. Testing programs in Maryland and the District have withstood federal scrutiny.

...U.S. officials indicated that there probably will be a third alternative for Virginia schools. Federal officials said they expect to approve a state request to use a portfolio of a student's work over time instead of a test.

Fairfax County School Board member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill) yesterday said he does not think there is enough time to train teachers on the portfolio assessment and to collect assignments that show a student has mastered the material before the spring testing season.
Read the entire article.

Having taught hundreds of ESL students over the years, I've been following this controversy with some interest. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to evaluate the progress of ESL students, particularly when those students have had only a year's instruction in or exposure to English.

But a larger issue is apparent is this controversy. What has the school systems so riled up is the possibility of losing federal funds. Over the years, local school systems have come to rely on federal money, and their budgets, constantly rising, are dependent on federal contributions thereto. Predictably, relying on those funds has resulted in federal control of curriculum, particularly as that curriculum relates to testing.

What is the proper role of the federal government in education?


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posted by Always On Watch @ 3/06/2007 06:59:00 AM