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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?

Jim Horn Comment: Well, it just took Time Magazine seven years to ask someone on the inside if what some of us have been saying for seven years is true, but later is better than never, you might say. Susan Neuman, former Asst. Sec. of ED under Rod Paige, now admits that insiders at ED saw "NCLB was a Trojan horse for the choice agenda." In coming partially clean, Susan is also spinning away, trying to exonerate Bush, Paige, and, of course, herself.

Neuman also continues her dissembling (or maybe she is just ignorant) by suggesting that the Spellings "growth model" plan would do anything to change the absurd 2014 target of 100% proficiency in reading and math. It does not. Neuman and others like Finn and Ravitch are busy, so busy, trying to make like good progressives, rather than the iron-fisted test and punish standardistas they were just a few months back. Neuman gives no clue as to how she will make amends for staying silent during the past 7 years of educational genocide, as millions of children, parents, and educators have been brutalized by the policies she promulgated and promoted.

Gerald Bradey Comment: At least some of the truth, at last.

by Claudia Wallis

There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind
(NCLB), the ambitious education law often described as the Bush
administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the
view of many educators, the law's 2014 goal ΓΆ€” which calls for all public
school students in grades 4 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in
reading and math ΓΆ€” is something no educational system anywhere on earth
has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3%
with serious handicaps or other issues) is supposed to be achieving on
grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging
ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that
children start off in different places academically and grow at
different rates.

Add to the mix the fact that much of the promised funding failed to
materialize and many early critics insisted that No Child Left Behind
was nothing more than a cynical plan to destroy American faith in public
education and open the way to vouchers and school choice.

Now a former official in Bush's Education department is giving at least
some support to that notion. Susan Neuman, a professor of education at
the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary
and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and
still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the
President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there
were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a
Trojan horse for the choice agenda ΓΆ€” a way to expose the failure of
public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number
of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."

Tensions between NCLB believers and the blow-up-the-schools group were
one reason the Bush Department of Education felt like "a pressure
cooker," says Neuman, who left the Administration in early 2003. Another
reason was political pressure to take the hardest possible line on
school accountability in order to avoid looking lax ΓΆ€” like the Clinton
administration. Thus, when Neuman and others argued that many schools
would fail to reach the NCLB goals and needed more flexibility while
making improvements, they were ignored. "We had this no-waiver policy,"
says Neuman. "The feeling was that the prior administration had given
waivers willy-nilly."

It was only in Bush's second term that the hard line began to succumb to
reality. Margaret Spellings, who replaced Paige as Secretary of
Education in 2005, gradually opened the door to a more flexible and
realistic approach to school accountability. Instead of demanding
lockstep, grade-level achievement, schools in some states could meet the
NCLB goals by demonstrating adequate student growth. (In this "growth
model" approach, a student who was three years behind in reading and
ended the year only one year behind would not be viewed as a failure.)
"Going to the growth models is the right way to go," says Neuman. "I
wish it had come earlier. It didn't because we were trying to be tough."

Neuman also regrets the Administration's use of humiliation and shame as
a lever for school reform. Failure to meet NCLB's inflexible goals meant
schools would be publicly labeled as failures. Neuman now sees this as a
mistake: "Vilifying teachers and saying we are going to shame them was
not the right approach."

The combination of inflexibility and public humiliation for those not
meeting federal goals ignited so much frustration among educators that
NCLB now appears to be an irreparably damaged brand. "The problems
lingered long enough and there's so much anger that it may not be
fixable," says Neuman. While the American Federation of Teachers was
once onboard with the NCLB goals, she notes, the union has turned
against it. "Teachers hate NCLB because they feel like they've been
picked on."

Is there a way out of the mess? Neuman still supports school
accountability and the much-maligned annual tests mandated by the law.
But she now believes that the nation has to look beyond the schoolroom,
if it wishes to leave no child behind. Along with 59 other top
educators, policymakers and health officials, she's put her name to a
nonpartisan document to be released on Tuesday by the Economic Policy
Institute, a Washington think tank. Titled "A Broader, Bolder Approach
to Education," it lays out an expansive vision for leveling the playing
field for low-income kids, one that looks toward new policies on child
health and support for parents and communities. Neuman says that money
she's seen wasted on current programs should be reallocated accordingly.
"Pinning all our hopes on schools will never change the odds for kids."

— Claudia Wallis
Time Magazine


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