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Education Week and No Child Left Behind

Posted: 2012-01-14

My acceptance of an invitation from Education Week to participate in a commentary on the 10th anniversary of No child Left Behind meant breaking my 15-year boycott of their pages. Here, I put that acceptance in context.

For their January 11, 2012, issue, Education Week invited nineteen people--"a range of K-12 education leaders, politicians, teachers, and child advocates”---to comment on the 10th anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Law. Not surprisingly, politicos got the spotlight. George Miller and Lamar Alexander led off, with Miller offering nearly 700 words and Alexander 850. The rest of us were strictly limited to 300 words each.

I took my contribution very seriously because it meant breaking a 15-year boycott of Education Week. I hope readers will look at this participation in the light of a book I wrote in 1999, One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards. There, I asked "Who Put Education Week in Charge of the World" and detailed their standards advocacy traveling as journalism. I coined a word for them, calling Education Week the chief Standardistos of the world (Chapter 7). In 2008, concerned about Education Week’s lack of objectivity regarding NCLB, a group of us wrote this letter, published March 5, 2008.(l). I modestly assert it is as timely and as important as it ever was.

Journalism and Advocacy: Bias in Quality Counts?

To the Editor:
The editors of Education Week claim to be objective journalists, but with your Quality Counts publication, you abandon objectivity and promote the standards-and-testing, industrial school paradigm of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In this context, you are no longer reporters; you have chosen to act as advocates.
Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week, says that its mission is to "help raise the level of awareness and understanding among professionals and the public of important issues in American education. We cover local, state, and national news and issues from preschool through the 12th grade." Education Week does not publish its own editorials, and it claims not to advocate for particular ideological or policy positions.

Yet for more than a decade, EPE has published its Quality Counts annual volume, purporting to assess the condition of American public schooling from a neutral and fair-minded vantage point. Education Week has presented Quality Counts as if it were any other piece of journalism, that is, a piece of reporting. But a quick inspection of the 2008 volume (Jan. 10, 2008) reveals the dishonesty in this presentation. Quality Counts is not reporting in any normal sense of the word.

Rather, it is advocacy. Its assertions and conclusions often support particular policy positions. A few examples reveal these characteristics.

  • QC embraces the position that state academic standards are a positive force in schooling ( Page 45) This is an ideological position. The publication offers no evidence to support it. While most corporate and political leaders and many school leaders embrace this position, many educators and parents believe that standards constrain learning more than they enable it, that standardization of learning is an antiquated artifact of the 20th century that hinders creativity and the personalization of learning.

  • QC accepts the criteria of an unpublished review of state standards conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, dated October-November 2007. This review judges state standards in terms of the following attributes: “clear, specific, and grounded in content.” Here, QC is embracing an advocacy position of the AFT. To employ an unpublished document that cannot be reviewed is also bizarre for a publication that calls itself journalistic.

  • QC awards positive scores to a state if it "assigns ratings to all schools” and “sanctions low-performing schools" ( Page 47). These are additional advocacy stances. There is no evidence that, for example, Florida's crude A-to-F rating system does anything for children other than intensify test preparation. Nor does Quality Counts offer evidence that sanctioning "low-performing schools" does anyone any good.

  • QC advocates for the ideological position that "all high school students . . . [should] take a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma" ( Page 48). This is yet another values-based position, not reportage. While some politicians and educators support this goal, others note that a more differentiated high school curriculum is likely to better serve the very diverse high school population, particularly since a large percentage of new jobs in the decades to come will not require a college degree.

  • QC awards points to states where "teacher evaluation is tied to student achievement" (Ma href="http://www.edweek.org/media/ew/qc/2008/18sos.h27.teaching.pdf"> Page 51) Such a policy is extremely controversial, given that many educators and analysts agree that efforts at this sort of simplistic, cause-and-effect delineation both distort the complexity of causation in the schooling process and increase pressure for schools to become test-preparation factories.

  • These examples and others in the 2008 edition of Quality Counts display the profound ideological bias in the document. In this volume you, the EPE editors, are not journalists engaged in good-faith, objective reporting. You are powerful advocates for a particular school ideology: state standards, the labeling of schools based on narrow indicators and the “sanctioning of low-performing schools,” “teacher evaluation tied to student achievement,” and so on—seemingly the whole industrial paradigm of schooling, from Ellwood P. Cubberley to George W. Bush.

    If you are not willing to publicly acknowledge your work as advocates in your yearly publication of Quality Counts, how can we trust the fairness of what you present each week in Education Week?

    We call on you to rectify this situation. Two obvious remedies come to mind:

    1. EPE could cease to act as an advocate, and thus cease to publish advocacy pieces such as Quality Counts.

    2. EPE could play by the rules, just as every other newspaper does, and establish an identified editorial function. Then it would need to separate its reporters from its editorialists. Even The Wall Street Journal and the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader meet this standard.

    It's certainly long past time for you to give up this charade of objectivity and play by the same journalistic rules as everyone else.

    David Marshak
    Philip Kovacs
    Susan Ohanian
    Gerald W. Bracey
    William Spady
    Deborah Meier

    This letter provoked subsequent letters of support ( published in the March 19, 2008, Education Week) from Kathleen Kesson, Debbie Potts, John Otterness, Lynn Stoddard, and Nancy Elkins.

    NCLB Legacy

    Since my website was launched in an effort to chronicle NCLB abuses, for my Education Week invited contribution, I decided to summarize the NCLB Legacy by offering a snippet of each state's experience—pulled from news items posted on my Site since 2002.

  • Alabama: Naptime eliminated for kindergartners. Schools argue that the traditional 30-minute afternoon nap wastes valuable instruction time.--October 2003

  • Alaska; "I hate No Child Left Behind Act. You have no idea. We must teach relevant education."--Senator Mark Begich, 2009

  • Arizona: For the fourth year in a row, Arizona ranks last among the states for its percentage of teens, ages 16 to 19, who have dropped out of school. --July 2005

  • Arkansas: Food insecurity and hunger rates that are significantly higher than the national average. --Oct. 2005

  • California: "What's putting me over the edge is there’s no joy in teaching.”--San Francisco teacher afraid to be named, 2004

  • Colorado: "Michael has an IQ of about 70," his mother said. "No amount of testing is going to change that. But I have a 28-page document that explains exactly what his teachers and his parents expect of him. So why, when testing comes around, do we throw (the plan) out the window?" --2004

    "I watched my son struggle all year long thinking it was too much pressure to read faster, he was feeling like a failure. He lost his confidence. He felt punished for not reading "good enough." Every reading test he failed meant that much longer without science class. No experiments. No take-home projects. No fun science books like the smart kids. My son was excluded.--June 2007

  • Connecticut: “Once you're condemned to hell, you can't get out," says Dr. Robert Britto, the assistant superintendent.--2004

  • Delaware: With the largest concentration of low-income students of any middle school in the state, and a largely black and Hispanic student body, A.I. du Pont Middle has all the student groups that have enjoyed the least success in American schools and on standardized tests. The school must meet all 29 academic targets NCLB has prescribed for it.--2004

  • Florida: Education Commissioner Robinson recommends making FCAT reading test tougher. Estimates are 15,500 more high schoolers will fail exam.

  • Georgia: One special education student missing a math test. That's all it took to keep Renfroe Middle School in Decatur from meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Renfroe is now labeled a "Needs Improvement" school and must offer parents the choice of sending their child to a better-performing public school or receiving extra tutoring.--August 2003

  • Hawaii: Board chairman Herbert Watanabe cited an analysis of Hawai'i public school students that found 51 percent are "at risk" because they come from economically disadvantaged families, have limited English proficiency or are special-education students. "This is what we have ... don't blame everything on the public schools," he said. "Read the facts. When you're looking at figures like this, the feds gotta have their heads examined sometimes."--Sept. 2003

  • Idaho: "There are 60 ways for a school to fail," said Gary Jones, research director for the Bonneville School District. "It's extremely easy."--Sept. 2003

  • Illinois: 11-year-old Paige in Chicago assigned to 3rd grade for third time--January 2005

  • Indiana: "Academic Atrophy: The Condition of the Liberal Arts in America's Public Schools" shows that in response to NCLB schools are spending more time on reading, math and science and less on social studies, civics, geography, languages and the arts. Raymond Park Middle School lost its two arts teachers last year. Home economics was eliminated, along with most foreign-language classes and some physical education classes --April 2004

  • Iowa: Tangled federal edicts guarantee schools can't measure up--Feb. 4, 2003

  • Kansas: The De Soto school board will consider removing an optional fifth-grade band program from students' instructional day. Band students currently spend about an hour a week in the class. But that's time that could be spent polishing the reading skills that are tested in fifth grade. "We're trying to recapture some instructional core academic time at the fifth-grade level to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind," said Superintendent Sharon Zoellner.--April 2004

  • Kentucky: I've yet to meet one teacher who's in favor of No Child Left Behind. They abhor it.-- Senator Ron Paul, 2011

  • Louisiana: Louisiana put sample test questions on tray liners in fast food restaurants and on book covers as part of a public relations campaign to help students pass newly mandated federal tests.--July 2003

  • Maine: The number of schools in Maine making "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind law has fallen from 64 percent to 44 percent. That's according to state education officials, who say that while many schools in Maine have made significant progress during the nine years the law has been in effect, continuous improvements are required.--Nov. 2010

  • Maryland: A teacher's aide whose college degree from her native Bolivia isn't recognized in this country, works two jobs at her school and runs its Spanish club but is scheduled to lose her job because of NCLB requirement that aides have A.A. degree.--2003

  • Massachusetts: On tests such as the NAEP, Massachusetts students represent some of the highest achieving students in America. Yet, when the standards and criteria specified under NCLB are used the state appears to be a dismal failure. Current state Department of Education data indicates that one out of every two public schools in Massachusetts is now in the "needs improvement" category.--Oct. 2009

  • Michigan: Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she will call on social services workers, churches and others to help educators fix troubled schools identified under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.--March 28, 2003
    Kindergarten teacher required to make 27,575 data entry points in her classroom.-- August 2011

  • Minnesota: It's cheaper to measure failure than to fund success. Sen. Mark Dayton, May 2003

  • Mississippi: The Colbert Report highlighted Mississippi NAEP performance to show how they’d dumbed down standards for NCLB. --June 2007

  • Missouri: The No Child Left Behind law is badly flawed. It creates undeserved criticism for some schools and teachers that are generally doing a good job. --Kansas City Star 2003.
    The city has always been a poster child for a glaring deficiency in NCLB--Kansas City Star editorial 2011

  • Montana: Montana's teacher of the year, a middle school teacher, does not qualify as highly qualified.--A teacher instructing in four subjects would have to get four degrees under NCLB. How many parents in Montana want to send their children to college long enough to get four majors? --Oct. 2004

  • Nebraska: BABY DIBELS Screening Tool—Individual Growth Development Indicators” [for 3-year-olds] announcement—Feb. 2006

  • Nevada: Recess at Clark County School District elementary schools is out. Officials say, under NCLB, "It's become a luxury we can't afford." 2—March 2004

  • New Hampshire: NAEP rated New Hampshire as having the best reading and mathematics scores in the country. But the bad news, reported on the same day, was that almost one-third of its schools had been designated as failing to make "adequate yearly progress" under NCLB.--2002
    The New Hampshire School Administrators' Association estimated that the Leave No Child Behind Act brings in $77 per pupil in federal aid, but creates $575 per pupil in costs.--March 2004

  • New Jersey: More than 800 public schools in New Jersey did not meet the targets set under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, an increase of about 150 schools from 2008, when almost 71 percent hit the mark.--January 2010

  • New Mexico: "I have a one-point plan for No Child Left Behind: Scrap it."—Gov. Bill Richardson.--Dec. 2007

  • New York: Test deciding whether 3rd graders move to 4th grade contains questions about doubles tennis match.--Jan. 2006

  • North Carolina: In the elementary and middle schools of Rockingham County, N.C., a rural district north of Greensboro, administrators have to discard as many as 20 test booklets on exam days because children vomit on them.--May 2003

  • North Dakota: Federal testing requirements miss the mark and are overly punitive in nature.--Senator Kent Conrad, Oct. 2010

  • Ohio: President Bush signed NCLB into law in Hamilton, Ohio. By his side were the leaders of the education committees in Congress, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.--Jan. 8, 2002

  • The absurdly low number of excused absences reported in the Cleveland schools last year - 620 for 63,500 students -- was no clerical error but the result of an orchestrated effort to keep student absences off the books. The goal was to boost the district's average attendance to 93 percent, the mark the state expects districts to hit.--Oct. 2005
  • Oklahoma: Food insecurity and hunger rates that are significantly higher than the national average. --Oct. 2005

  • Oregon: Mother decides to homeschool her first grader after teacher tells her during the first week of school that his DIBELS scores aren't adequate for first grade.--September 2002

  • Pennsylvania: In Philadelphia, if enough parents seek NCLB tutoring, that could mean more than $15 million a year going to for-profit firms, nonprofit community organizations, individuals, even faith-based groups. That's money the district could otherwise spend in the schools for such things as smaller classes and teacher training.-- July 2003

  • Rhode Island: With the school board's decision on Tuesday to dismiss the entire faculty as part of an NCLB turnaround plan for the chronically underperforming school, some say they are losing one of the few constants in the state's poorest city, where 41 percent of children live in poverty and 63 percent of the high school's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.--Feb. 2010

  • South Carolina: A state where food insecurity and hunger rates are significantly higher than the national average. --Oct. 2005

  • South Dakota: One of 16 states that did not meet any of the seven federal standards that include the incidence of abuse and neglect, the time they spend in foster care and the stability of their living arrangements.--April 2004

  • Tennessee: Blocks, dolls and the toy kitchen were banned from Mary Lauren Tenney's kindergarten classroom last year in Knoxville, Tenn. But Tenney kept the blocks in defiance, arguing that, "For years, we told parents that children learn through play."—Oct. 2002
    A baby dies in Memphis every 48 hours.--August 2008

  • Texas: Seven-year-old Cody and his 9-year-old sister Cherokee bring home backpacks from school filled with Special K cereal, a carton of milk, a package of peanut-butter crackers, a cup of fruit cocktail, a pull-top can of beans and franks,etc—their weekend breakfast, lunch, and dinner.--June 2006

  • Utah: Gov. Jon Huntsman signed a measure Monday defying the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act despite a warning from the federal education secretary that it could cost $76 million in federal aid.--May 2005

  • Vermont: Under NCLB school restructuring requirements, popular principal of school populated by Somalian refugees forced out by low test scores.--2010

  • Virginia: Third grader brought home 45 pages of multiple choice test prep drill sheets. --October 2004

  • Washington: "State leaders need to stand up and speak out against the ESEA," said Spanaway's Juanita Doyon, organizer of Mothers Against WASL and a member of ACT NOW -- Advocates for Children and Teachers National Organizing Workshop. "Children don't come standard. There will always be different levels of competency."--May 2003

  • "The WASL is presented in a secretive, cold and inhuman fashion. The teacher is not allowed to read the questions, or help, and the kids have to maintain silence for hours and hours. They are only allowed a bathroom break once in a while."--April 2008
  • West Virginia: Federal officials said West Virginia was one of 16 states that did not meet any of the seven federal standards that include the incidence of abuse and neglect, the time they spend in foster care and the stability of their living arrangements.--April 2004

  • Wisconsin: A large majority of families of Milwaukee Public School children live at or near poverty levels. In 2001-02, 77% of Elementary, 75% of Middle School and 58% of High School students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. Total enrollment in MPS, more than 100,000.--June 2003

  • Wyoming: According to the Food Research and Action Center, barely one in five of the students fed free lunches at school is getting the lunches children are entitled to during the summer. In Wyoming, the number is just 7.6 percent.--June 2003

  • This summary, as brief and inadequate as it is for telling the story of NCLB's devastation, is 1,400 words over the Education Week allotment. So I abandoned the summary and decided to zero in on The Petition.

    The Petition Calling for the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act

    The Petition was the result of intense online collaborative work by a group that at times numbered as high two dozen or so and at other times dwindled to a handful. We argued. I remember disappearing in a snit for a few days and then coming back to argue some more. Argue and listen. It was frustrating and exhausting, but it also seemed very important. On November 21, 2006, A Petition Calling For the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act was launched on the Web. This Press Release describes what happened.


    A Petition Calling For the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act

    December 13, 2006

    Thousands of educators, parents, and concerned citizens are participating in a coordinated movement to end the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Spearheading the effort is the Educator Roundtable, which has issued a petition calling on legislators to vote against reauthorizing the law. In its first week the petition received over 12,000 signatures.

    Longtime educator Marion Brady--one of the petition's authors--explains that opponents of the legislation are "fed up with the law's simplistic approach to education reform and how it wastes student potential, misallocates teaching resources, shrinks the curriculum, and threatens the future of our democratic republic by undermining public education."

    News of the petition has spread with great enthusiasm among parents and teachers, who often leave poignant commentary along with their signatures. Writes one teacher, "I am retiring early. We feel we are fleeing a sinking ship, after giving our entire lives to our students and our profession. It is a sad way to end a career." And a parent offers, "I feel like my little boy is being groomed for a life on an assembly line rather than being taught how to think and be creative."

    "When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Health Care and No Child Left Homeless," notes Susan Ohanian, one of Roundtable's founders, "then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind."

    The Educator Roundtable petition cites several arguments against NCLB. Chief among them are:

  • NCLB misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control.

  • NCLB uses pseudo-science to justify policies and programs that are damaging public education--including diverting taxes away from communities into corporate coffers.

  • NCLB rates and ranks public schools using procedures that will gradually label them all “failures” by creating unrealistic Adequate Yearly Progress goals, which set schools up to be "saved" by vouchers, charters, or privatization

  • Up for reauthorization next year, the legislation had bipartisan support when President Bush signed it into law in 2002. The Educator Roundtable seeks similar bipartisan support to end the increasingly controversial act. According to Dr. Philip Kovacs, a lead organizer of this national effort, "individuals from both political parties were sold a false bill of goods, and it will take individuals from both political parties to stop NCLB from doing any more harm."

    In its place they call for formal state-level dialogues led by working educators, rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tanks," or business and industry activists who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.

    Who Signed the Petition?
    Of the 19 people Education Week invited to comment on the tenth anniversary of NCLB, only two signed this petition—me and Mary Bell, a teacher in Wisconsin Rapids, WI and the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, who clocked in as signer #20,162. Mary's signature is significant, since NEA headquarters sent out directives urging NEA local leaders to tell their members NOT to sign the petition.

    Within a month of its appearance, more than 20,000 people had signed the petition. Chief organizer, Philip Kovacs was Petition signer #1. I say with a badge of pride that I was #2. The 35,252 signers included two respected national education reporters and one member of Congress. A number of signers pleaded, "Please do not ignore this petition!" But it was ignored--by the politicos and the media. The teacher unions didn’t ignore it; they worked against it. NOTE: The Petition and NEA's infamous memo denouncing it and telling members not to sign will appear in Part 2 of this history.

    The Petition Calling for the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act is important to me right now because I prepped for my 300-word contribution to Education Week's 10th anniversary of NCLB by actually reading it, the whole thing. Not only did I read all 1,054 pages, I looked up the zip codes of the 35,252 contributors so I could get a feel for where the loudest complaints were coming from. Based on that, I say "Go Georgia! Go North Carolina!"

    Thinking that parents, teachers, and children should be heard, my first idea for my Education Week contribution was to post the remarks of someone from each state. Because I can’t verify names, I give their numbers.

    Alabama #25,862: NCLB is accomplishing exactly what its authors intended-- the destruction of public education.

    Alaska #20,121: Trash It!!!

    Arizona #19,359: Die, NCLB, die!

    Arkansas #14,183: Anyone who wants to influence policy about education should first work in a classroom for a month.

    California #15,462: I would be willing to give up part of my salary to help cover the Federal money lost if our district told the Federal Government we are not going to comply with the onerous NCLB standards.

    Colorado #28,259: NCLB has no place for excitement and love.

    Connecticut 34,243: NCLB has created a cottage industry for hucksters promoting snake oil "cures" for boosting test scores.

    Delaware #28,018: NCLB is a side-show for the technocrats of Washington whose data is only linked to power, privilege, favor, and kickbacks.

    Florida #365: Congress Makes a Lousy School Board.

    Georgia #3,052: Spend a day in my classroom. . . walk in my shoes!

    Hawaii #24,124: Let the teachers teach...let the children learn their individual strengths. Keep politicians out of it!

    Idaho #24,986: Our schools must be more than factories shaping tools for industry's use.
    Illinois #21,244: Teaching is an art, not a factory job. Let teachers teach!

    Indiana #1,602: As a life-long educator, I find NCLB misconceived, shortsighted, counterproductive, deceptive, and doomed to self-destruct.

    Iowa #183: NCLB is to education what the Iraq war is to democracy.

    Kansas #2,881: NCLB is a cynical tactic to destroy public education and create a permanent underclass available for cannon fodder.

    Kentucky #33,737: Please, get this disease removed from our school systems!

    Louisiana: #30,350: I am a third grade public school teacher and I am begging you to GET RID OF HIGH STAKES TESTING which causes undue stress and grief on little children!

    Maine #18,076: NCLB is the final stake in the heart of public education.

    Maryland #4,288: I am no longer teaching children; I now teach test-taking skills.

    Massachusetts #228: NCLB = No Low Income Child Left Unharmed.

    Michigan #25,230: Public education is the backbone of democracy. NCLB destroys public education.

    Minnesota #26,469: NCLB SUCKS

    Mississippi #29,761: Kids in Mississippi are obese because of little P.E. or recess, which have been removed because of NCLB.

    Missouri: #27451: The time has come for us to demand that educators actually run the public schools--not Mayors, not the Business Round Table, and not the privateers. In short--it's time to reclaim our democracy.

    Montana #20,840: NCLB is a cash cow for corporate education.

    Nebraska: #27,153: My son's 3rd grade music teacher has jumped on the homework/testing bandwagon and is sending home 50 flashcards a night and testing the kids on them a couple of times a week.

    Nevada #29,353: NCLB is child abuse.
    New Hampshire #1,255: This is one of the most destructive pieces of legislation in educational history.

    New Jersey #18,676: Poverty is the primary cause of low standardized test scores. Let’s address that.

    New Mexico #27,248: NCLB stands for No Corporation Left Behind.

    New York #20,335: Death to DIBELS!
    North Carolina #15,011: TEACH TO THE TEST-----IF IT'S NOT ON THE TEST, THEN DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME! When I was told this by administrators, I knew my retirement time had come.

    North Dakota #27,020: This is the "Kill Public Education Act."

    Ohio #4468: NCLB narrows the curriculum, deskills teachers, and turns our schools into "testing centers.

    Oklahoma #4,828: Please come and spend a week with my kids to see who you are hurting.
    Oregon 26,725: NCLB and DIBELS have forced us to homeschool till the insanity ends.

    Pennsylvania #17,954: NCLB is screwing up this country for the next 50 years.

    Rhode Island #20,388: End the NCLB charade!

    South Carolina #26,488: I teach Special Needs Middle Schoolers, and NCLB is really hurting my kids!

    South Dakota: #33,484: NCLB cannot work. We are talking about children, not cogs of industry.

    Tennessee #34399: NCLB is quickly becoming No Teacher Left Standing...I did not go to college for 8 years and get 3 college degrees to teach to the test.

    Texas #461: NCLB desecrates teaching.
    Utah #58: Close down the U.S. Department of Education.

    Vermont #23,606: Testing is not teaching!
    Virginia #29,802: NCLB is an obscene signature program for the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

    Washington #98,122: Stop making students, parents, and teachers the scapegoats for an utterly failed economic system that masks class warfare as a failed school system.

    West Virginia #27,882: NCLB is to schools what supply-side economics is to fiscal policy-- an unmitigated disaster.

    Wisconsin: #556 The worst week of the school year is watching my special needs students break down as they take the high stakes standardized test.

    Wyoming #30,076: Never in my life have I seen such a destructive impact on our educational system.

    But this clocks in at 852 words—nearly three times what Education Week allowed.

    Back to the drawing board.

    I figured every other contributor would use up a sizeable portion of the allotted 300 words with good things to say about NCLB's contribution to public education, praising the efforts to close achievement gaps, ensuring that every child had a highly qualified teachers, using data-based decision making, and so on. And I was right.

    Not I. Inspired by the comments of 35,252 Petition signers, here is my Education Week contribution. I used hot links to give teachers and parents and students a voice.

    NCLB Timeline, Education Week, January 11, 2012--by Susan Ohanian

    Ten years of the No Child Left Behind Act has brought a steady erosion of the values that should be central to public education. The rise of standardized tests and "no excuses" accountability has forced students, teachers, administrators, and parents to enter circles of Hell even Dante never envisioned.

    Below, an NCLB timeline from those on the front lines:

    2002: "We are the State, which has brought students out of the wilderness of teacher-led classrooms and into the kingdom of test prep. Thou shalt have no other guidance before thee, and then it will follow as night follows day that No Child is Left Behind."
    The Ten Commandments of No Child Left Behind-- from my website.

    2003: "My 3rd grader brings home 45 pages of multiple-choice, test-prep drill sheets."
    — Email to me, from a parent in Virginia

    2004: "What's putting me over the edge is there’s no joy in teaching."
    -- California teacher "who talked openly on the condition her name not be used" in the newspaper article in which she was quoted, "Teacher's Time Rarely Her Own/Federal Mandates Limit Classroom Ingenuity" ( San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2004).

    2005: The stories of 12-year-old Paige in Chicago and 10-year-old Mariah in Palmetto, Fla., both of whom were assigned to 3rd grade for three years in a row.
    A Child Held Behind,( The New York Times, Jan. 16, 2005) and Poor Schools Work Hard to Improve Scores on FCAT ( Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 13, 2005)

    2006: BABY DIBELS Screening Tool—Individual Growth Development Indicators" (for 3-year-olds)
    — School bulletin on Baby DIBELS cited in Attention Parents of Young Children (Feb. 7, 2006)

    2006: "My son already hates school, and he's just halfway through kindergarten."
    — L. J. Williamson in "My Kid, a Burnout at 5" ( Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27, 2006)

    22007: Highly qualified" means sticking to the script.
    -- Email to me from a Buffalo, N.Y., teacher

    2008: "The body count from No Child Left Behind grows daily and one wonders when the perpetrators will be called to account. In a decent nation, the larger society holds the government accountable. In a program like NCLB, the government holds the citizenry accountable."
    -- Gerald Bracey, "Chew on This" (The Huffington Post, April 21, 2008)

    2009: "The Obama people—who promised revolutionary change—have no ideas other than to tighten the grip of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program on the teachers and children of the United States."
    -- Diane Ravitch, "Obama Gives Bush a Third Term in Education" ( The Huffington Post, June 13, 2009)

    2010: "When he heard my student vomited during The Test, THE first question the principal asks me is "Did anything hit the test booklet?" Evidently there is some major procedure involving Fort Knox and some security company trained by the CIA and FBI that needs to be followed when someone barfs on the book!"
    — Tina, "Neither Sleet Nor Hail Nor Vomit" (Teachers.Net, March 10, 2010)

    2011: "I now have to give a total of more than 27,000 check marks or grades for my class of 25 kindergartners per year."
    — Nancy Creech, "Kindergarten Teacher Details 'Lunacy' of Standardized Tests for Kids" ( Washington Post Answer Sheet blog, July 5, 2011)

    Summing Up: "The consequences of NCLB are far more damaging to our National Security than Iraq ever was."
    — Signer #24,432, Educator Roundtable Petition to End NCLB

    So this little piece met the Education Week allotment of 300 words. It provoked only one comment on education discussion lists to which I belong. I admit disappointment because it represented a lot of work. So it goes: when something looks easy, often it isn't.

    Part 2 coming: The Petition, The NEA Response, Media Reaction

    More Commentaries

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