January 07, 2005
Buckets of Your Money Going to Armstrong Williams
Since frequent commentors Joshua and Morris have been going on and on about No Child Left Behind (in the comments section of a post about Fallujah) I thought I'd link to this story - Armstrong Williams received $240,000 from the government to promote NCLB on his show. That strikes me as, at the very least, unethical.
Posted by armand at January 7, 2005 11:15 AM
| Posted to Politics
Thankyou, Armand, for bringing me a little laugh today. I can't remember the last time the great investigative journalists at USA Today brought us a major political story, it's kind of like the Saints going to a Super Bowl. What also strikes me as funny is that nobody bothered to read the budget and see that $240,000 was going to this guy. We certainly do see this sort of thing going on, and I'm far from certain it's a bad thing; that is, if the public is not aware of their rights, do they really have them in a meaningful way? What I mean is, NCLB guarantees certain rights to children, but if parents aren't aware of these rights, how can they exercise them? As Joshua has said, teachers and schools are resisting this program, and it's only by the awareness of their rights that parents will get them to comply with NCLB. Desegregation was the law of the land, but it took federal marshals to get teachers and school administrators to let African American students into formerly white classrooms in the South, and without African American parents being aware of the law no one would have called in federal marshals to make them enforce it. I do think this would be better if it were spent on PSAs, but that's just a question of how to get the message out most effectively, instead of whether it's ethical to do so.
Why smear USA Today? They've actually got some good reporters and have their share of scoops.
And me ... I think ethics matter. I think this damages the reputations of both this talking head and the government - whether or not it's effective (and I seriously doubt that, that's part of the problem with this expenditure) it smells ... sleazy.
And Morris, if you want to have a fight about NCLB, we can certainly do that. As I understand it, NCLB "passes" and "fails" schools based on how many of the students in each grade pass a nationally standardized test. The problem is that the percentage of students that must pass the test rises to 100% of the students in the grade by sometime later this decade. If less than 100% pass, then the entire school fails, and loses most of it's budget. Nice idea in theory, but in reality you will never get 100% of the students to pass. Hence (as we are already seeing), some perfectly good schools are "failing", causing major problems (parents pulling students out, etc.). NCLB is has some kinks, and will likely be amended by Congress at some point.
There certainly are kinks in NCLB. As to your idea that 100% cannot pass, first of all DD students do not take the same test:
"Developmentally disabled students are required to take the Alternate Proficiency Assessment (APA) if the regular assessment and accommodations are not appropriate."
Second, schools that don't reach a 100% pass rate are targeted for improvement. This is exactly what's spelled out in "No child left behind." If it were the "Most children left behind" Act, then maybe only 49% passing would be okay. The whole point of this is to get students who aren't passing the help they need, even if that means being identified as DD. And it's to get schools the help they need, and make changes if they don't improve. To try a metaphor here, before you get a driver's license, you have to take a test, just as teachers have to pass the Praxis before they can teach. But just because you pass the written exam doesn't mean they give you the license, you have to be able to perform actual driving, and you're tested again every few years to make sure you can still do it; and if you screw up too bad, they take your license away. When's the last time you heard about a teacher being fired because he/she was lousy, because his/her students didn't learn? They're kept on if they're good babysitters. Also, we'd never really know if students didn't learn, because until NCLB students weren't evaluated in a way that would let parents and school administrators know. And even if parents knew how bad schools and teachers were, without NCLB they don't have the ability to send their children to a better school in a better district. Maybe the evaluation isn't perfect, but we have to start somewhere and figure out where to go from there.
My apologies to USA Today, I don't know what I was thinking in criticizing the pioneers in color newspapers. I agree with you that ethics matter. In the field of psychotherapy, even TV advertising is looked down on from an ethical standpoint, but that doesn't stop Dr. Phil from showing up on TV every afternoon, and maybe he's able to reach people with a healing message that would not otherwise hear it. If it turns out that this commentator has a cousin in the Education department or graduated with someone high up there, then yes it looks fishy. But it seems that it's a good thing to pay someone who supports a program to promote it, if they didn't support it, of course it would be unethical.
the point is that if you pay him you can't truly know that he supports it. only where he has nothing to gain by supporting a policy can we trust his support is genuine.
the other issue is tax-payer-subsidized propaganda in violation of federal law. the number thrown about is $240,000, but that's just what armstrong received. the middleman, a public relations firm retained by the DOEd for just this purpose (which is what showed up on the DoEd's budget, and i don't even know whether that sort of itemization is passed on to congress prior to authorization, which is what would have lent congressional oversight to the covert compensation of a pundit for beating the drum for NCLB), actually charged approximately $1M, of which armstrong's stipend was only a fraction.