In an otherwise interesting column about a NYC school, anti-No Child Left Behind propagandist Michael Winerip manages to get a dig in on the law. One is again left dumbfounded about why the most important newspaper in the world, The New York Times, has kept this guy on this beat for so long:
Ms. Senechal sees a school that takes poor children — 100 percent get free lunches — and provides opportunity. This is why she has no faith in the federal No Child Left Behind law, which labels I.S. 223 a failing school. While I.S. 223 students in every racial and ethnic subgroup made their testing goals in English, math and science, the law requires 95 percent to be tested, and on the English exam, the school was 7 students short. “That makes us a failing school?” she said. “Nonsense. Remarkable things happen at this school.”
Why is this tendentious? Well, the law doesn’t say the school is failing; merely that it doesn’t make adequately yearly progress if it’s not assessing 95 percent of the kids. Why? Well so that you can’t game the stats by excluding kids who might not do well on the test. And Winerip is cognizant of this issue because, for instance, in a 2003 column he busted Texas officials for manipulating data and in a 2004 column he lamented that Texas was evading accountability by having larger subgroup sizes than Florida (that one was a classic of the genre, he rose to the defense of a school with about 1/3 of its minority kids at grade-level, you can’t find just anyone to do that!). Of course, this is not the first time that Winerip has moved the goalposts all over the place to launch a salvo. In fact, just a few weeks ago he was saying how textured the federal accountability system is because of all the things it measures compared to Jay Mathews’ “Challenge Index.”
If Michael Winerip wants to wage a jihad against No Child Left Behind that’s fine, the law is hardly flawless. And with any large scale federal policy doing so is easy because there are always kinks in the joints. But his columns are just the journalistic equivalent of terrorism, lob a grenade and run. There is no consistency or theme beyond his visceral dislike for the law. Criticism is useful but this is just a string of cheap shots that surely must confuse readers and adds nothing to the conversation. Can’t The Times do better?