Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

In A New Book from The Century Foundation National Education Experts Offer Advice for Next Administration on How to Fix NCLB

Here's a new book that calls for "A well-constructed billâone that fully funds the ambitious goals of NCLB; provides coherent national standards, tied to high-quality assessments and reasonable stakes for students and teachers alike." Here is The Century Foundation Board of Trustees:

Chairman: Alan Brinkley
Vice Chairman: James A. Leach
Treasurer: Lewis B. Kaden
Secretary & Clerk: Alicia H. Munnell
President: Richard C. Leone

H. Brandt Ayers ⢠Alan Brinkley ⢠Joseph A. Califano, Jr. ⢠Alexander Morgan Capron ⢠Hodding Carter III ⢠Edward E. David, Jr. ⢠Brewster C. Denny ⢠Christopher Edley, Jr. ⢠Charles V. Hamilton ⢠Matina S. Horner ⢠Lewis B. Kaden ⢠James A. Leach ⢠Richard C. Leone ⢠Jessica Tuchman Mathews ⢠Alicia H. Munnell ⢠P. Michael Pitfield ⢠John Podesta ⢠Richard Ravitch ⢠Alan Sagner ⢠Harvey I. Sloane, M.D. ⢠Theodore C. Sorensen ⢠Kathleen M. Sullivan ⢠Shirley Williams ⢠William Julius Wilson

Here are their "partners and collaborators": Note the Broad and the American Prospect/Center for American Prospect holding hands with other good liberals. You've been warned about this.

The American Prospect
Campaign for Americaâs Future
Carnegie Corporation of New York
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The Center for American Progress
The Council for Excellence in Government
The Center for Urban Research, City University of New York
The Columbia Journalism Review
The Council on Foreign Relations
Drum Major Institute
The Economic Policy Institute
The Foundation Center
Fred Friendly Seminars
The International Longevity Center
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The Open Society Institute
The Russell Sage Foundation
Institute for Educational Leadership
The Spencer Foundation
The Hewlett Foundation
The Broad Foundation
The Stanley Foundation Institute on Assets and Social Policy
The Constitution Project
Institute for Womenâs Policy Research
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYUâs School of Law
Common Cause
People for the American Way Leadership Conference for Civil Rights
American Constitution Society
Citizens Union
The Helen Bader Foundation
New York Society for Ethical Culture
The Nation
Frederich Ebert Stiftung Foundation
United Nations Foundation
Public International Law & Policy Group
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Commonwealth Fund
The Center for Genetics and Society
The Miller Center
Carnegie Mellon University
Georgetown University Law Center


Washington âAmong the early challenges for the new president and Congress next year will be getting national education reform back on track by fixing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which is up for reauthorization. NCLB was passed in 2001 with broad bipartisan support, but the controversial legislation, which requires states receiving federal funding to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and to hold schools accountable for making adequate yearly progress in raising student achievement, is now widely acknowledged to need a major overhaul when it is reauthorized.

In Improving On No Child Left Behind: Getting Education Reform Back on Track, a new book from The Century Foundation edited by Senior Fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg, some of the nationâs most respected authorities on education reform examine three central defects of the act: the under-funding of NCLB; the flawed implementation of the standards, testing, and accountability provisions; and major difficulties with the provisions that are designed to allow students to transfer out of failing public schools. The authors detail what needs to be addressed in each of these areas, and propose ways to fix the problems.

The groupâs findings and recommendations include:

⢠Funding. To date, most of the debate over the funding of No Child Left Behind has centered on the gap between authorized levels of funding and appropriations. But this discussion avoids the fundamental question: What is the true cost of NCLBâs goal of making all students academically proficient by 2014?

According to new research in the book, detailed by authors William Duncombe and John Yinger of Syracuse University and Anna Lukemeyer of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, federal funding would have to multiply many times over to help districts succeed in meeting even the intermediate goals of the legislation. They note that the costs of reaching 90 percent proficiency (short of the lawâs ultimate goal of 100 percent proficiency) will vary from state to state. But based on a careful review of historical data on the relationship between spending and performance, and looking at four representative states, the researchers find that even if states increased funding by 15 percent and districts became 15 percent more efficient at spending resources (ambitious goals), federal Title I aid would have to be increased by 18 percent in Kansas, 129 percent in New York state, 547 percent in California, and a whopping 1,077 percent in Missouri to meet the goal of 90 percent student proficiency.

⢠Standards, Testing, and Accountability. A coherent system of standards, testing, and accountability was to be the hallmark of standards-based reform, but as Lauren Resnick, Mary Kay Stein, and Sarah Coon of the University of Pittsburgh write in their chapter, the No Child Left Behind law is marked by myriad problems, including the failure of states to develop clear and rigorous content standards; the poor quality of most state assessments that makes âteaching to the testâ a big problem rather than a desired outcome; the adoption of an arbitrary single standard of proficiency that is too high for some students, and not high enough for others; the incentive to focus most heavily on students who are on the cusp of becoming proficient, to the detriment of those far below or above the bar; and the failure to isolate the effects of family and the effects of school on student achievement. Moreover, unlike the original vision for standards-based reform, the No Child Left Behind law contains only sticks and no carrots, the authors argue, creating a compliance mentality among teachers rather than spurring efforts to enhance student learning.

What is to be done? Establish clear and well-defined standards, set at the national level if possible, or by a small number of state consortia. Produce high-quality tests that are linked to these standards. Abolish the ludicrous goal of 100 percent proficiency to a single standard and, instead, set multiple standards with the goal of moving all segments of the distribution up at least one notch. Use wellconstructed, value-added models of achievement that better measure what children are learning in school, as opposed to what they have learned before kindergarten or during summers off. And use carrots as well as sticks as incentives for students and teachers alike.

⢠The federal law has broken its promise to provide low-income students stuck in failing schools the opportunity to attend much-better-performing schools, because urban districts typically have very few good schools available to receive these students. As Amy Stuart Wells of Teachers College, Columbia University, and Jennifer Jellison Holme of the University of Texas at Austin explain in their chapter, to fix this problem NCLB should provide financial incentives to encourage high-performing suburban schools to accept transfers by low-income urban students. Wells and Holme examine interdistrict integration programs in eight communitiesâBoston; East Palo Alto, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Rochester, N.Y.; and St. Louisâand conclude that carefully designed student-transfer programs can produce extraordinary outcomes for students.

In the introduction to Improving On No Child Left Behind, Kahlenberg notes that failure to fix the problems with NCLB could undermine the entire standards-based reform movement, and our entire system of American public education. He believes that a well-constructed reauthorization billâone that fully funded the ambitious goals of NCLB; provided coherent national standards tied to highquality assessments and reasonable stakes for students and teachers; and included a genuine transfer option for low-income students to attend high-quality, middle-class suburban schoolsâwould strengthen Americaâs public education system immeasurably.

Improving on No Child Left Behind: Getting Education Reform back on Track is available through online book stores or by calling 1-800-552-5450 (in Washington, D.C. call 202-797-6258.)

You can read the introduction to the volume here and the biographies of the contributing authors are available here.

Monty Neill Comments:

The Century Foundation has published a new book, "Improving No Child Left Behind," which consists of an introduction by Richard Kahlenberg and then 3 main chapters, each dealing with one area of NCLB. The book claims that these three address the core problems with NCLB. They do in part, though at times, especially in regard to testing and sanctions, inadequately or with recommendations that will make the situation even worse. Kahlenberg's introduction, on which I am relying for these comments, is available on their website, www.tcf.org - scroll down just a bit (Amazon has it new in paper for $19.95).

The first main chapter addresses funding. Duncombe and Yinger make clear that huge new sums of money will be needed for even 90 percent of students to reach extant state definitions of proficiency; if those with lower bars or easier tests raised bars or had more difficult tests, the amounts needed would increase. They also argue that money does matter. Those focusing on this terrain are likely to find this chapter of substantial use; it reinforces previous conclusions in this direction, such as analyses from Bill Mathis.

The third main chapter address the 'transportation' option NCLB provides, noting that it is rarely used, probably in large part because of so few schools within a district are actually available (a point FairTest made years ago in our report on NCLB, available at www.fairtest.org). Also, suburbs won't take transfers, both because it may well cost them, but also due to the fact that when they do, they will face the accountability demands of NCLB. The chapter appears to focus on 8 inter-district programs, pointing to ways in which they are successful and the supports and agreements needed to make them work. Kahlenberg simply says at the end that congress will have to address the AYP and sanctions aspects, noting that Sen Lieberman proposed a one-year moratorium for receiving districts (as though that would be remotely sufficient!). Jonathan Kozol has of course railed against the race and class isolation of major urban school systems, and the chapter provides sources of evidence on how students of any background do better when in a majority-middle class school than a majority-poor school. But whether this can be a solution for many students, even if one likes the idea, does not seem to be addressed.

To me the real problems are in the second of the 3 main chapters, on testing and accountability, written by Lauren Resnick (who has long been prominent in testing issues, having co-led the New Standards project with Marc Tucker). It proposes national standards and a national test (or at least a few consortia each with many states), though it appears they never addresses the flaws in NAEP and its levels-setting; talks about good tests as the solution to current tests; wants growth models that can track a student during the school year (and thus will require testing in both fall and spring - a common implication of many 'growth' measurement proposals); and proposes only very modest changes for the sanctions, mainly the now-common call to differentiate degrees of failure, as the new Dept of Ed regs already start to do; and calls for consequences for students as well as schools. That's right, having done such a fine job on states and schools, now they are to go after individual kids (wealth may not trickle down, but high-stakes testing is supposed to).

They point to some now-well-known absurdities in the law -- the impossibility that all students can reach proficiency if proficiency is more than a low expectation; that having just one cut-score target is dysfunctional (such as producing 'bubble kids'), that the curreent tests are academically and intellectually weak, etc. On the last, Kahlenberg notes that one reason the tests may be bad is there are so many of them - but then the solution to that, say the authors, is more tests. I know, if the feds did it, then clearly the money per test could greatly expand and be used to improve quality. But it is still one test, and tho in some ways NAEP is a good test, it remains a far from adequate measure of what students should know and be able to do, and thus would continue to induce destructive narrowing of curriculum and instruction. Perhaps the chapter's authors grapple with the issues of why having a single national test will solve the testing problems of NCLB, but Kahlenberg does not. (I noted in a separate post, discussing Richard Rothstein's book, that he has a good discussion of why a national test is not a good solution; and a very good discussion of why the early version of NAEP is far superior to the present version.)

Perhaps the actual chapter has more useful discussion of alternatives to the current sanctions, but nothing in the intro suggests that it does. Yes, they call for 'carrots' and not just 'sticks,' but carrots or sticks are still trapped in the destructive behaviorist, manipulative model. Nothing was hinted at addressing what it will take to make high-quality schools (money is necessary of course, but money won't make a bad law good), nor how to make ESEA into a law that will help schools improve - the assumption is that that standards and tests model will do the job, despite the plain evidence of NCLB and a large array of other evidence, such as the recent study by JR Warren and colleagues finding that high-stakes testing does not improve learning outcomes or employment opportunities. The belief in the magic bullet continues.

I fear this chapter will find takers in Congress for its noxious recommendations. I suppose I'll have to wade through the actual chapters at some time (at least the one on testing), but I suspect Kahlenber's outline is a pretty fair representation of what the chapters' authors call for. If so, it appears this book is neither a comprehensive analysis of the flaws of NCLB nor an adequate solution to the problems, and in some regards it's recommendations would intensify the law's problems.

— Press Release with comment by Monty Neill
Century Foundation


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.