Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Crazy or Stupid?

The American Association of School Administrators stands tall for having a leader consistently speaks out for children. Sadly, none of the other professional organizations can make this boast.

By Paul D. Houston

I want to tell you about something that happened back in the olden days, long before Fred Flintstone discovered dinosaurs — back when I was going to junior high school.

My school sat at the foot of a hill, and on the top of the hill sat the state mental hospital. I’ll not comment further on that interesting juxtaposition or the fact there were folks in town who claimed you couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other started.

One year a fire broke out at the hospital just as school was letting out, and all the kids ran up the hill to catch the excitement. The patients had been let out and were milling around, and the students mixed with them.

One of my friends started talking with one of the patients and handed him a dime and told him to buy himself a Coke. The patient thrust the coin back with a frown and said, “How do you expect me to use that when I don’t have a penny to go with it? I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.” And he wasn’t. Back then Cokes cost a dime but without a penny tax you couldn’t buy one.

Unsupported Claims

After spending 14 years in our nation’s capital, I realize the longer I am here the more I have come to question my own sanity. I now take comfort remembering that story because I might be crazy, but I am not stupid. And there is so much that happens here that makes me think that they think we are all stupid.

We are now almost six years into a war that we started because we were told Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction. The fact there were none has been justified by claims that everyone thought so — Congress, our allies and the press. Of course, all those folks got their information to think so from the same people who decided to make the war in the first place. I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.

We are in the midst of an economic downturn. This, we are told, is because too many people bought houses they couldn’t afford. Of course, someone loaned them the money knowing they shouldn’t. And maybe our economy is suffering because we are spending money the government doesn’t have because they are funding a war that costs billions of dollars a week while cutting taxes. You can’t spend money you don’t have and expect a happy result. I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.

But let’s get to education. We are in the midst of a long educational reform era. This was started in the early ’60s because we were falling behind Russia in the space race. The schools had let the country down. Within a decade we landed men on the moon. Schools were not given any credit.

In the ’80s we learned there was a rising tide of mediocrity in our schools and the nation was at risk. We were in the throes of a Cold War and Germany and Japan were kicking our economic backsides. Schools again were the problem. Rigor and higher standards were the solution. Within a decade the wall had fallen, the Cold War ended in triumph and Germany and Japan had been vanquished economically. Again the schools were not credited.

In the ’90s Americans began to worry about the emergence of India and China as economic competitors. American students weren’t keeping pace. Something must be done. We decided to test our kids into greatness. Now, I don’t know about you, but I see a pattern here. When things are not going well, blame the schools. When things turn around, credit good old American know-how. I am tired of being the scapegoat for politicians who take the credit and assess the blame to others. I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.

Shared Responsibility

We are told accountability is essential — by people who refuse to be accountable for underfunding schools, who fail to address the social needs of children created by inequalities and who think simple answers exist for complex problems. Accountability flows both ways. I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.

In his State of the Union speech, our current president called for swift re-enactment of No Child Left Behind based on his claims of great success. There have been some modest gains in state test results over the past few years, but researchers have pointed out these started before NCLB and it is difficult to attribute much of the success to that program.

Further, other researchers point out that results on other assessments, not used for NCLB, have not improved and in some cases have fallen back. The proponents of NCLB have said that whatever gets tested gets taught. Probably true, but what doesn’t get tested doesn’t get taught, particularly if the stakes are high on test results. We can drill low-income children into higher scores, but will that translate into later success? There is no question that during the NCLB era there has been a narrowing of the curriculum and a loss of those programs that enhance creative expression — the coin of the realm in international economic competition.

Undoubtedly, a lot of children have been left behind. The schools that fail to have high expectations and high support for those children are partially at fault. But so are parents who fail to spend quality time with their children, and so are legislators, governors and presidents, who are long on blame and short on bringing resources to the table for supporting children and families. We all may be crazy but we aren’t stupid. Forrest Gump’s momma always said that “stupid is as stupid does.” Isn’t it time we did better than play the blame game?

Paul Houston is AASA executive director. E-mail: phouston@aasa.org

— Paul D. Houston
School Administrator


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.