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NCLB Outrages

We’ll all pay for rolling back educational reform

Stephen Krashen Comment (in a letter to the San Diego Union Tribune:

No Child Left Behind and Lake Wobegon

Ruben Navarrette (“We’ll all pay for rolling back
educational reform,” Sept. 30) and Education Secretary
Margaret Spellings think that requiring all children
be at or above grade level by 2014 is a good idea.

I have a math question for them: How can all children
be at or above grade level when grade level means the
50th percentile? How can all children be at or above

Please submit answers to:

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Ohanian Comment: Ruben Navarrette Jr is an editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune. What do you think the chances are that they will publish Stephen's letter? Navarrette is also syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group so his ugliness pops up regularly across the country.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

This could be the end of the line for No Child Left
Behind. And some educators couldn't be happier.

The five-year-old education reform law — one of the
most important of its kind in the last half-century —
is controversial, although it should not have been.
After all, what it proposes is fairly tame. It
requires that all students perform at grade level in
reading and math by 2014 and relies on regular tests
to gauge how well students — and by implication,
teachers and administrators — are doing toward
reaching that goal. It also separates data by racial
and ethnic subgroups to get a sense of which groups of
students are in the greatest distress. Lastly, it
helps students with limited English by preventing
schools from testing them in their native language in

That's NCLB in a nutshell. The law is up for
reauthorization this year, and it has the misfortune
of having to get through a Congress controlled by
Democrats, who get their assignments from teachers
unions that ply them with campaign cash.

Those unions would like to see NCLB ground into
itty-bitty pieces. They're so desperate to maintain
control over the educational process and help their
members duck accountability that they're willing to
put their own interests before those of children. That
isn't new. Public schools have, for generations,
crafted an environment that caters to the needs and
wants of the adults who work in the schools rather
than those of the children who attend them.

How many days should there be in the school year? How
long should the school day be? What tests should we
give, and when should we give them? And what should be
the consequences when students don't do well?

Does anyone really believe that when the grown-ups sit
down in school board meetings or state legislatures to
make these decisions and others about how schools
operate that what's top of mind is the interests of
children who don't vote, or give money, or twist arms,
or pay union dues? If so, they need to grow up.

The law is also encountering resistance from some
Republicans who represent suburban districts for whom
the issue is local control. The districts want Uncle
Sam to butt out of the educational system and leave
schools, teachers and administrators to run things as
they see fit.

With critics on the right and the left, it's no wonder
that NCLB is in trouble.

Democrats don't have the guts to kill the law outright
because they don't want to advertise to voters that
they rolled back education reform. So they'll have to
settle for watering down the law and making it easier
for schools to hide how poorly they're doing.

Luckily, NCLB has a ferocious defender in U.S.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. As someone who
is obviously committed to the law and to preserving
its intent, Spellings isn't afraid to square off
against powerful opponents of NCLB such as Rep. George
Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on
Education and Labor.

After Miller and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the
committee's ranking Republican, put together a
"discussion draft" of changes they'd like to see made
to NCLB, Spellings took a look at what they had in
mind and then — on Sept 5 — fired off a letter of her
own laying out her concerns with what they had in
mind. Among them: that the proposed changes would make
it harder to disseminate information about how
students were doing while making it easier for
low-performing schools to avoid having to make
improvements and offer options to students and
parents. Letting schools off the hook in this way
would, Spellings wrote, undermine a "bright-line
principle of NCLB" and cripple the law.

Which, of course, would be fine with those who want to
return to the old status quo. For the good of our
children and the future they will visit upon us, let's
hope that Spellings can stop them. If she can't, and
No Child Left Behind is dismantled, we'll all pay the
price — and for many years to come.

— Ruben Navarrette Jr. with comment by Stephen Krashen
San Diego Union-Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle


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