The illusion of success



In the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch touches on the topic of No Child Left Behind. In this section she mentions the inspiring success of Texas schools that served as a model for the No Child Left Behind legislation. On the surface this plan would ensure accountability, help raise test scores, shrink the achievement gap and appeared to be a successful model overall. However, some scholars agree that Texas’s improving statistics were a result of low-performing students dropping out of school. It is argued that the testing system in Texas caused a rise in dropouts especially African American and Hispanic students who were repeatedly held back.


A similar situation unfolded recently in the Portland area. As a condition of No Child Left Behind, some Portland public school students are allowed to transfer schools and many chose to transfer to one of the smaller alternative schools. For many years these alternative schools were not subject to the same expectations and accountability as other public schools. It appears this provided a place to channel lower achieving students to create the illusion that Portland schools were doing better than they actually were. Read more about this here:


What can we do to ensure that these loopholes are closed and prevent children from falling through the cracks in our broken system?


7 thoughts on “The illusion of success

  1. Well stated concern about the illusion school districts create to give the appearance of success. I’d be curious to know some of your ideas. Being involved in the education system I just know that asking teachers to do more and continually limiting their resources, or changing their curriculum hasn’t been working…

  2. In Chapter 6, Ravitch lists multiple reasons why the NCLB isn’t working in the favor of children, teachers or schools.
    Some reasons she lists:
    The new testing system might actually be causing more dropouts and therefore boosting the scores (pg. 96) – “As low performing students gave up on education, the statistics got better and better”.
    Teachers are spending more time preparing students for standardized testing (because their jobs and schools are on the line) and pushing aside much needed subjects such as history, science, social studies and arts (pg. 96), therefore diminishing and devaluing children’s education.
    How the transfer option to kids at failing school’s isn’t being used anyway – most kids and parents don’t want to change schools, they want their own school to get better (pg. 100).
    How the free tutoring option isn’t being used either – mainly because the tutoring companies are focusing on using the new law to make a profit and not on the kids learning (pg. 101), plus kids who are doing bad don’t want to spend even more time in school or studying.

    There are many more examples listed in the chapter on how the NCLB act was a huge failure – in a lot of cases because the teachers are feeling stressed about getting the students standardized scores up and spend most of their time prepping kids to be good at taking the standardized tests.
    What’s ironic to me is that in the article you posted by Betsy Hammond (“Dropouts in Portland Public Schools: An Entrenched Pattern”), Portland Public Schools is failing at keeping kids in school – “Only 53% of Portland’s High School students graduate in 4 years”. She says the main problem is the lax attitude of all the alternative schools in Portland. She writes, “In some of the programs, students can take classes on comfy couches, bring their guitars to class and spend hours talking about current events — all engaging, but not the ticket to a proper high school diploma, much less college or career”

    There is a very fine line between this article’s opinion on Portland (super laid back, relaxed and failing) and the Chapter 6 information which describes teachers as being too concerned with grades and too intense on standardized test teaching (super intense, not relaxed enough and failing).

    How can you have the best of both worlds? Is it a better mix between the two that will save students and education in America? Or is it a whole new plan altogether.

    The article you posted by Betsey Hammond was great. I was shocked by the numbers and information – but there aren’t any references to where she got her information which makes me wonder if it’s accurate.

  3. That is a surprising percentage…53% of Portland high school students graduate. That doesn’t seem very high. From the article, “Portland Public Schools makes little progress in overall graduation rate”( from the Oregonian it is a little better. It says that 63 percent of the class of 2012 on time. Slight improvements have been made. The graph of schools is helpful to see what schools are the best for our students and where that changes need to be made.

  4. Alisha, I’m really glad you brought up the issue of alternative schools and how they play into the public school system as a whole. During week 1, we read a couple of articles on the high drop out rates in Portland and how students transferring from one school to another played a role in the problem. I think that the issue of transferring– which often times causes students to end up in alternative schools, may be part of the problem. Instead of working with a student to find the resources she or he may need to succeed, it seems like many educators are more apt to just send him or her to another location in hopes that they will somehow magically begin to succeed along the way. Perhaps one way to hold schools more accountable is to force them to work more with students who need extra help and if they do transfer them, have proof that they have done everything possible to mentor them. Do you think it is possible for this to happen in our current day school system?


  5. Alisha, I really like the link that you provided about the dropout rates in Portland Public Schools. It was an interesting read, and it made me consider the question that you posed of what we can do to close these loopholes. I believe that it should be noted when a child (lower achieving or not) moves to another school and that this should reflect somehow on the school’s behalf showing that they didn’t succeed in helping the student. I feel like there are various ways that can be done to prevent and/or close these loopholes but not sure how effective it would be. I think that there needs to be more information being provided (by who, I am not sure), that shows how schools are using this loophole. I know that I hadn’t heard much about how this loophole is being used and I know if I did I would find it concerning and want to try to do something to close it off. Hopefully this is a problem that we can resolve; I’m interested in knowing if you have any ideas?

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