King of the Hill was one great TV show, we'll tell you what. It dealt with issues of the day without being heavy handed, and often also did so with good insights. One such episode dealt with a school trying to get around No Child Left Behind standards by putting enough academically troubling kids in the 'slow class' to ensure that the local school passed the approaching standardized tests demanded under NCLB.
It is said that the best humor has a certain truth to it. This storyline fits that adage. It wouldn't surprise us to discover schools and school districts doing exactly what was described in the above mentioned story. A local to Detroit school administrator has admitted as much in private: schools sometimes try to get around certain standards by labeling lower scoring students as special needs, thus exempting them from the higher standard of the regular classroom.
This isn't to disparage standardized tests. We've defended ourselves and stand by our earlier assertions that they aren't that big a deal. But the main thing wrong in the King storyline are the federally imposed standards which we've also spoken against. As a body politic we say that we want diversity in education, then promptly try to centralize education under an increasingly massive, and itself difficult to hold accountable, national bureaucracy. Why shouldn't we expect localities like school districts, we can be held accountable (according to that far off bureaucracy anyway) to flaunt the rules when they can?
Which leads to another salient point. Bureaucracies tend to protect themselves. Anyone at the public trough, whether at an enormous DC Department of Education or a smaller local school, will do what it can to keep the cash flowing. This will include sleight of hand tricks which appear to be doing something (such as seeming to give kids who 'need' extra help that 'help') up to punishing schools which score low with less cash (without any regard for the local issues which, quite naturally, will affect school performance). Bureaucracies are hammers, so every problem is a nail.
Unfortunately that means the big hammers will win in the long run. That thought gives us a certain sympathy for all the Landry Middle Schools of the land. They may not have been right in their approach to their problem. Yet given the monolith of No Child Left Behind, perhaps they were only doing what they could.