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NCLB Outrages

Education Law Harms Local Control of Schools

As a parent, citizen, and a researcher of education policy, I'm extremely troubled by the dehumanizing effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Equally distressing is the acquiescence of Vermont Commissioner of Education Richard Cate, to the strong-arming, "you are either with us or against us" tactics of the Bush administration.

I contest any optimism that Vermonters might have or are being coerced into believing about No Child Left Behind. I also argue that an opportunity remains to prevent Vermont's schools from becoming the hideous testing factories that exist in other states.

Nationally, there is extensive evidence that:

(1) No Child Left Behind agendas are forcing schools and communities to accept the legitimacy of federal guidelines and high-stakes tests, not to engage us in discussions of educational aims or how local integrity can be preserved;

(2) Teachers', researchers', and parents' opinions are rejected if they contradict the ideology of NCLB;

(3) High-stakes tests are often invalid, unreliable, and weak predictors of achievement, ability, creativity, intelligence, or future "success"; and

(4) More and more teachers fear intimidation if they speak out to expose the horrors of No Child Left Behind, such as greater stress for students and teachers, merit pay linked to test results, schools being judged only by test scores and teachers feeling forced to teach to the test.

Before I moved to Vermont in 2002, I lived in Ohio where standardized tests and national frameworks created environments where recess was eliminated, teachers' salaries were linked to test scores, children became ill during testing, teachers' job satisfaction waned, and, ironically, less appeared to be learned.

Ohio is an important example to study in relation to Vermont. Ten years ago, Ohio teachers were either optimistic about the evolving state frameworks or they thought the latest wave of "reform" would soon end. Many suggested that a balance of state and local power could be reached. Others thought that it was their responsibility to uphold the state testing system even if it was unreliable and/or unethical. Few forecasted that within six years 95 percent of teachers' time would be directed to frameworks and assessments developed outside of local communities, or that schools could become such dehumanizing places. Today Vermont is where Ohio was 10 years ago.

The Vermont educators with whom I work report that more money, time, and philosophy are being directed to testing and test preparation, enriching opportunities for students are evaporating, and local control of curriculum is eroding. This analysis may appear alarmist within Vermont's history of civic independence, and there are many teachers who believe that No Child Left Behind will never evolve to the extreme that I described earlier. However, this is exactly how many educators and citizens felt in Ohio 10 years ago!

Before I left Ohio, two realities were telling. First, an Ohio business "leader" who directed the Governor's Commission for Student Success -- a group of hand-picked people who wanted to standardize curriculum by enforcing high-stakes tests -- stated he believed business CEOs and the commissioner of education knew more about what was good for communities and schools than local citizens.

This confession was aligned with the philosophy of the commissioner of education in Ohio who believed it is the role of the state to convince the public that national frameworks, standards, and tests are legitimate. Is it the responsibility of public servants to convince me that a policy is legitimate even though it has proven to be harmful and destructive?

What does Commissioner Cate believe he should do? At what point will No Child Left Behind become so oppressive that Cate will spend a much greater amount of energy fighting for communities like Marlboro to maintain local autonomy and integrity and against oppressive ideology from the federal government? To believe that we can maintain a balance between No Child Left Behind and local control is not only naive, it will prove disastrous. Simply, I am deeply disturbed that Cate is not more deeply and openly disturbed.

Dana Rapp, Ph.D., lives in Readsboro with his partner and three children. He is a professor of educational studies at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. Rapp has published numerous articles about high-stakes testing and teacher activism. He is co-author of the book, with Patrick Slattery, Ethics and the foundations of education: Teaching convictions in a post-modern world.

— Dana Rapp
Burlington Free Press


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