[Susan notes: This is an outstanding letter.]
Published in Education News
Stop the Name-Calling Defense of 'No Child' Act
Some proponents of the No Child Left Behind Act are "playing the race card" in an effort to discredit critics of the law. Most recently,
Andrew J. Rotherham of the Progressive Policy Institute said at a Washington forum that some Democratic candidates opposing the law "sound
a little like [archsegregationist] Orval Faubus to me" ("Education Law Faces 2004 Challenges, Speakers Say,"
Dec. 10, 2003).
Kati Haycock of the Education Trust said, "Too often, the critics imply that students from low-income families and students of color simply cannot be expected to be taught to high levels."
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has consistently implied that those who oppose the legislation support the perpetuation of educational apartheid. And President Bush used the phrase "the soft bigotry of low expectations" to imply that his critics preferred low expectations for poor children.
This kind of name-calling is tragic because it avoids a desperately needed discussion about whether the law's approach is likely to improve
or degrade education for students who have not been well served. The truth is that many critics of the No Child Left Behind Act share its
stated goals of narrowing the achievement gap while improving education for all, but see substantial evidence that its approach will not work.
The track record of high-stakes exams suggests that the legislation will encourage test preparation instead of real education. The result will narrow and dumb down education, while the overuse of tests will continue to drive many children out of school. These children will be mostly low-income, and disproportionately children of color, with limited English proficiency, or with special needs.
The No Child Left Behind Act will cement in place a dual system: a decent to good education for the middle and upper classes, test preparation for low-income children. But all children can learn far more than the impoverished schooling diet being force-fed in the name of accountability and high standards.
We recognize that many supporters of the law believe it will improve education. And we know that FairTest and many critics of the legislation, including African-American and Latino educators, civil rights groups, many black and Hispanic members of Congress, and the
clear majority of educators who actually have to teach under this onerous law, believe that it is not the path to genuine educational improvement.
The real issue is whether it will on balance improve education, particularly for groups who have not generally had access to such education. Such a consideration needs to acknowledge that there are approaches other than those mandated in the legislation that have been proven to be more effective. Past experience has shown that the law's test-and-punish approach will undermine both educational equity and school quality.
Our hope is that we will not wait for the damage to occur before we look to better alternatives for reform and accountability and work to
implement a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that the nation will, in fact, leave no child behind.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
Monty Neill, Executive Director, FairTest