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NCLB Outrages

With No Child Left Behind, Familiarity Breeds Contempt

by Gerald Bracey

I have heard repeatedly that the closer you are to the impact of No Child Left Behind, the less you like it. Now it turns out that the more you know about the law the less you like it.

In a survey from Scripps Survey Research Center, 23% of respondents said they wanted the law renewed in its current form, 14% want it abolished and 49% want it amended. Among those who said they were very familiar with the law, three quarters want it amended or abolished.

Well-educated people and people with children in schools are more likely to want to do away with the law.

In a compendium of messages from teachers, those closest to the law besides the kids themselves, you find statements like this:

Professionally, NCLB has been devastating to the teaching staff in my school. Experienced teachers are opting to retire in larger numbers. They are choosing to leave the profession rather than teach in a manner that they have found, through decades of experience, is detrimental to student learning.

This is from NCLB/ESEA: It's Time for a Change. (NCLB is formally known as ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, of which the version from 2001 is the latest incarnation).

It should be kept in mind that this compilation represents only several hundred of over 2,000,000 people -- it was assembled by the NEA, an organization that initially lacked the guts to oppose NCLB but which has gotten more negative about it over the years (in October 1991, a meeting of education organizations was held to determine what position to take on NCLB. Most organizations, including the NEA, said that they would not support it but they would not actively oppose it. Only the American Association of School Administrators took an actively negative stance -- and paid for it in retribution from the Bushies). Still, each of the letters carries a name and a school district -- it's not a collection of anonymous gripes.

The May 31 edition of USA Today features a limp editorial which claims that "already the law has helped thousands of poor and minority students..." It provides no evidence for this claim. It calls for a couple of minor changes -- snag fewer schools and concentrate the assistance on those schools with long histories of trouble. The editorial totally overlooks most NCLB trouble spots.

Alfie Kohn's scathing rejoinder begins, "It's time to say in a national newspaper what millions of teachers, students and parents already know: NCLB is an appalling and unredeemable experiment that has done incalculable damage to our schools--particularly those serving poor, minority, and limited-English-proficiency kids."

I'm with Alfie. Those poor and minority kids are spending hours getting drilled on low level reading and math skills. Affluent and middle class kids are getting more enriched reading and math classes and social studies and science as well. In other words, they're getting an education. In the larger sense, the achievement gap is growing, not narrowing.

Alfie closes with "The law cannot be fixed by sanding its rough edges. It must be replaced with a policy that honors local autonomy, employs better assessments, addresses the root causes of inequity and supports a rich curriculum. The question isn't how to save NCLB; it's how to save our schools -- and kids -- from NCLB."

Sooner or later, critics of NCLB have to deal with the question "How do you account for strong support for the law from liberals like Kennedy and Miller?" In the past, I've argued that Kennedy was playing expedient politics to get the extra money (much of which Bush did not deliver). It seems Kennedy was satisfied when he blocked the original legislation's voucher provisions and substituted Supplemental Educational Services (which only wastefully sends a couple of billion dollars to the private sector each year--with no accountability). I couldn't explain Miller except that he's from California which has almost the lowest test scores in the country.

Now maybe there's a better explanation. Doublethink. A manuscript sent to me for review summarizes Orwell's concept this way: the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory statements as true:

There are critics today who claim that the designers and advocates of NCLB intend to weaken the public schools and, thus, pave the way for privatization. There are even those who suspect that the intention -- far from leaving no child behind -- is to leave many children behind, thus ensuring a cadre of poorly educated people to staff the booming service industry. They may be right. But we need not attribute questionable motives to the people promoting NCLB. The language itself dissembles and those supporting it may be guilty only of doublethink--believing that children are being helped when much evidence and clear logic suggests they are being hurt.

— Gerald Bracey
Huffington Post


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