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NCLB Outrages

In education, the new administration is as ruinous as the old

While self-described
Progressives cling to a fantasy that never
touched on reality, Ravitch offers a chunk of
substance. Obama isn't a turncoat on education
policy. He is proceeding along a path spelled
out several years ago in a paper written for
him by the Center for American Progress.

His paper, prepared for delivery Oct. 25. 2005
(and reported on this website), titled
"Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy,"
could have been issued by the Business

by Diane Ravitch

Education was not a big issue in the campaign,
but it is a big issue for our society. Our
future depends on having a strong and effective
public education system, as well as excellent
institutions of higher education and a variety
of successful private institutions of

When President Obama ran for office, he
promised sweeping change, and educators
understood him to mean that he would reverse
the Bush administration's ruinous No Child Left
Behind legislation. I say "ruinous," because
NCLB has been a costly failure. On national
tests, given by the U.S. Department of
Education, student achievement is either flat
(as in 8th grade reading) or has improved less
than in the days prior to NCLB (as in every
other grade and subject tested). I say
"ruinous" because NCLB is punitive, has caused
nearly 40% of the nation's schools to be
labeled "failing," and has set the nation on a
course in which nearly all of our schools will
be declared "failures" within the next five

NCLB's remedy for "failing" schools is harshly
punitive. When a school is struggling, there is
no help on the way, just punishment: Fire the
staff; close the school; turn the school over
to private entrepreneurs, etc.

So it was reasonable to expect that the Obama
administration would throw out this harsh
regime and replace it with a program intended
to improve, help, support, and strengthen our

But along comes Arne Duncan, our new Secretary
of Education, and everything he has said to
date might have just as well been said by
Bush's Secretary Margaret Spellings. Duncan
paid his visit to New York City and toured a
charter school, not a regular public school. He
declared that the nation's schools need more
testing, as though we don't have enough
information already to act on our problems. He
declared his support for charter schools, where
only 2% of the nation's children are enrolled.

The one educator close to Obama who actually
has experience in the schools--his chief policy
advisor Linda Darling-Hammond--was demonized by
the new breed of non-educators and their media
flacks, and she has returned to Stanford
University. There was no room apparently in
this administration for someone who had been
deeply involved in school reform for many
years, not as an entrepreneur or a think-tank
expert, but as an educator.

It looks like Obama's education policy will be
a third term for President George W. Bush. This
is not change I can believe in.

Diane Ravitch is Historian of education at
NYU and a fellow at Hoover and Brookings.



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