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NCLB Outrages

Tough standards reap gains

Stephen Krashen Comments:

Newsday has republished Education Secretaryâs claims [in the Washington Post]
that No Child Left Behind has worked (âTough standards
reap gains,â June 14). Readers should be aware that
not everyone agrees.

Spellings states that the recent Center on Education
policy report showed that âtest scores are up.â But
the important question is whether NCLB has made a
difference. The report compared elementary school
reading gains for the two years before and two years
after NCLB was implemented in 12 states. Before NCLB,
the yearly rate of improvement in these states was
1.93 percent. After NCLB, it was 2.25 percent, a
difference of less than one-third of one percent.
Thatâs not much, especially when we consider that
Reading First, the reading component of NCLB, imposes
an extra 100 minutes per week of reading instruction,
an extra semester every two years.

Spellings also claims that on national tests, âmore
reading progress was made by 9-year-olds from 1999 to
2004 than in the previous 28 years combined.â Several
published reports have shown, however, that the gains
came before NCLB and Reading First were implemented,
not after.

So far, neither state nor national tests have provided
any evidence that NCLB has improved reading
achievement, despite the billions of dollars spent and
enormous investment of time and effort.

pre/post NCLB gains for 12 states: data from table 9,
starting page 43, Center on Education Policy, 2007.
Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has Student
Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?

Published reports analyzing national test scores:
1. âThe 16th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public
Education,â by Gerald W. Bracey, published in the
October 2006 Phi Delta Kappan.

2. âSelling NCLB: Would You Buy a Used Law From This
Woman?,â by James Crawford, available at

3. âIs the No Child Left Behind Act Working? The
Reliability of How States Track Achievement,â by Bruce
Fuller, Kathryn Gesicki, Erin Kang, and Joseph Wright,
published in 2006 by Policy Analysis for California
Education, at the University of California, Berkeley.

4. âDid Reading First Work?,â by Stephen Krashen,

5. âTracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact
of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-Depth Look Into National
and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,â by
Jaekyung Lee, published in 2006 by the Civil Rights
Project at Harvard University.

By Margaret Spellings

Margaret Spellings is the secretary of Education. This
is from The Washington Post.

A quiet revolution of accountability is sweeping
education. We're measuring students annually, breaking
down scores by student group and insisting that all
children be taught to achieve at their grade level or

A new study by the nonpartisan Center on Education
Policy, revealing improved student performance and a
narrowing achievement gap across most of the country,
shows that we're on the right track.

Test scores are up, but has the academic bar been
raised? An Education Department report released June 7
found that state standards for reading and math
assessments were generally lower than those of the
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP,
also known as the Nation's Report Card). In most
cases, the knowledge required to reach the
"proficient" level on state tests was comparable to
the "basic" level on NAEP. Other studies have echoed
these findings.

This may fuel a Beltway-based movement for "national
standards" and a national test created and mandated by
the federal government. Such a move would be
unprecedented and unwise.

National standards are not synonymous with higher
standards - in fact, they'd threaten to lower the
academic bar. And they would do little to address the
achievement gap.

This approach goes against more than two centuries of
American educational tradition. Under the
Constitution, states and localities have the primary
leadership role in public education. They design the
curriculum and pay 90 percent of the bills.
Neighborhood schools deserve neighborhood leadership,
not dictates from bureaucrats thousands of miles away.
The proper role of the Education Department is in
helping states, districts and schools collect data to
drive good decision-making.

Information is our stock in trade. President Teddy
Roosevelt understood this when he called on the
federal government to provide "the fullest, most
accurate [and] most helpful information" about the
"best educational systems." States showing leadership,
such as Arkansas and Massachusetts, can inspire

The debate over national standards could become an
exercise in lowest-common-denominator politics. We've
seen it before, most recently during the 1990s fight
over national history standards.

The landmark 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" called for
"standardized tests of achievement . . . as part of a
nationwide (but not federal) system of state and local
standardized tests" to stem the rising tide of
mediocrity in our schools. Rather than top-down
mandates, we are encouraging a race to the top.

Five years ago, many states did not regularly measure
their students' performance against the tough NAEP
standards. Today, all 50 do. The president's plan to
reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act calls on
states to post their scores side-by-side with the NAEP
results. This would drive up the political will to
raise standards.

We are already seeing heartening signs of change.
States are aligning high school course work with
college and employer expectations. Many have adopted a
core curriculum of four years of English and three
years each of math and science. All 50 governors have
agreed to adopt a common measure of graduation rates
to help solve the dropout crisis.

Our approach is working for students. NAEP says more
reading progress was made by 9-year-olds from 1999 to
2004 than in the previous 28 years combined. President
George W. Bush wants to build on this progress. His
plan would train more teachers to lead advanced math
and science classes.

Accountability can light the way forward. But only
higher standards can take us there. Our goal is a
public education system responsive to the needs of
parents and children - not to the whims of Washington.

— Margaret Spellings, wth comment by Stephen Krashen
Newsday and Washington Post


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