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NCLB Outrages

Bush's Education Reforms Falter

Notice the "smarter than thou" tone to all this. If you try to go to Oxford Analytica, you get asked for money. According to their self-description, Oxford Analytica maintains a contributor network of "over 1,000 scholar experts on global political economy issues. Most are based in top universities and research institutions around the globe."

And they want your money.

Note the major premise, which the reader is expected to take as a given, "the universally acknowledged inadequacy of the primary and secondary education systems." We must not let THEM get away with this. We have some schools that are deplorable. We have some schools that are breathtakingly wonderful. Demand specificity!! Names, dates, times, and ice cream flabor preference.

That said, there are some interesting points here. You already know them, but all of us need to be reminded, as in This is a plan which has to have winners and losers AND This is a plan with 588 requirements.


Okay, I haven't a clue if this number is accurate. All I know is that it's a great number. Go with it. If a NCLB syncophant demurs, cite Forbes. The public can understand a ridiculous number like this. I repeat: Go with it.

Second thought: Since this doesn't look like one of those religiously iconic numbers, predicting Armaggedon, or whatever, maybe we should just announce that NCLB has 666 requirements. 666, the sum of all the numbers on a typical roulette wheel plus a few other associations.

by Oxford Analytica

Education reform has an exceptionally fraught history in the United States, despite the universally acknowledged inadequacy of the primary and secondary education systems. This woeful record, which now includes President George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is due to the idiosyncrasies of the U.S. political system and serious structural disincentives. Unless these challenges can be overcome in relatively short order, NCLB may fail.

Some public policy fields exhibit high rates of technical success and political prestige. However, most public policy innovations enjoy lower success rates because:

-- the technical knowledge required for the successful delivery of particular policy outcomes is not available;

-- politicians, interested parties and voters typically contest a policy's principles, objectives, instruments, costs, or effectiveness; and

-- adoption of all public policies implicitly or explicitly defines some winners and losers.

U.S. education policy exhibits all three of these characteristics and is, accordingly, politicized. Furthermore, it has two additional, wholly distinctive, traits:

Cultural emphasis: It has enjoyed widespread public cultural, political and tax support.

Locally based: Its content and financing have been largely determined at the state and local level, and it is governed through "school districts."

Those involved in forming and delivering education policy are not necessarily oriented to maximizing either efficiency or effectiveness. Moreover, the incidence of U.S. educational failure has been densely concentrated in poor and ethnic minority areas and remains so.

NCLB's key requirements were that:

-- each state set annual tests in mathematics and English for children from grades three to eight, assessing their attainment against federally-approved standards;

-- all school teachers be "highly-qualified" by 2006;

-- all pupils achieve specified levels of competence in mathematics, science, and English by 2013-14 ;

-- any school that failed to reach stipulated AYP in two successive years would be subject to federal sanctions;

-- persistent failure by a school would result in heavier federal penalties; and

-- school districts provide special tuition for pupils "left behind."

This package of measures owed much to the principles underlying most recent global public sector reform efforts: the object was to alter the incentive structures of education managers, teachers and school pupils.

Politically the president assumed three major risks in taking the NCLB initiative:

Republican dissent: By locating NCLB's management in the Department of Education, he risked a damaging confrontation with congressional Republicans. Party leaders had long opposed federal regulation of education policy.

Uncharacteristic bipartisanship: Bush took on the risk of building a bipartisan congressional coalition in support of education reform.

Uncertain political gains: Finally, the political payoffs of education reform were both uncertain and long-term.

The NCLB Act has no fewer than 588 requirements, most of which require coordination between federal, state and local governments. This structure, and the processes to which the Act gives rise, combine to make for a forbiddingly complicated policy environment:

Unequal starting points: The Act does not permit changes in children's performances to be measured in ways that take account of their starting positions.

Wildly divergent standards: Comparison of federal and state assessment criteria shows little correspondence between the proportion of children graded as proficient on federal and state tests. Education targets are frequently moved, and target setting is politicized.

No alternative providers: NCLB's requirement that persistently failing schools teaching children from poor families provide a choice either of transfer to a new school or of private-sector tutoring has been only partly implemented.

State resistance: Distaste for federal intrusion also hampers implementation.

NCLB built upon half a century of growing federal involvement in education. Nevertheless, the results have been disappointing, particularly for the most marginalized students. Despite the NCLB, the available data indicates that children's education prospects and life chances continue to be broadly directed by their family circumstances.

To read an extended version of this article, log on to Oxford Analytica's Web site.

Oxford Analytica is an independent strategic-consulting firm drawing on a network of more than 1,000 scholar experts at Oxford and other leading universities and research institutions around the world. For more information, please visit www.oxan.com.

— Oxford Analytica


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