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NCLB Outrages

Making No Child Better

NOTE: The Times title is Making 'No Child' Better, but glitches in the system won't take punctuation in titles, and look at what happens when you take away the quotation marks. Truth in punctuation

Readers Comments at NY Times site:
Don Myers:
Your assumption is wrong. The plan was simply political; and had little to do with improvement. Anyway, the problem has little to do with the education machinery. The problem is that there are millions and millions of very smart people around this world that will work for a fraction of what our high school graduates are paid. We can have the best of the best education systems yet unless we address the outsourcing of the global companies (and our government) to those millions and millions of foreigners we are doomed to a different standard of living.

[teaching as a second career person]
. . . . We are willing and eager to improve our school, after all, many of our own children attend it, but the constant churning in response to half baked political schemes and ideological polemic has turned struggling schools into models of chaos. Teachers are serious people and they are committed to helping children achieve their maximum potential, but politicians, chasing votes and financed by the textbook and assessment industry persist in churning the waters and clouding the view. Even the best teachers are becoming mired in a growing list of pedagogically suspect, but officially sanctioned and therefore mandatory strategies and techniques all promoted as the panacea.

Each revision to federal and state laws and regulations, mandating curriculum changes and forcing the adoption of magic bullet commercial teaching strategies, written, apparently by people who have not seen the inside of a classroom since they graduated, drives schools and teachers further into a death spiral. Each year for the last ten I have devoted increasingly vast amounts of time to learning newly mandated programs, strategies and pet theories, few of which ever seem to actually match the skills, interests and needs of my students.

Good teachers succeed by studying their students, learning what motivates them, and providing them with challenges and explorations that match their needs, skills, and cognitive deficits and strengths. We do this best when we are allowed the time to focus our attention on the students personally rather than endlessly toiling away at state mandates to revise, rewrite, and republish our curriculum and lesson plans to accord with the latest, politically popular, model educational theory.

Yes, the president's educational reform effort will face opposition, but not because educators are naturally intransigent. Rather the opposition extends from the knowledge that those pushing for the reform are utterly ignorant of the challenges faced by schools and the tremendous effort teachers make.

Each day in the classroom contains challenges far more complex than any challenge I faced as a trial lawyer. Until it is clear that Mr. Obama and his education secretary have an awareness of these challenges beyond patronizing lip service, teachers will at best be skeptical if not hostile to their political schemes. Politicians love to play silly electoral games. Fine. But America's teachers are serious about the work we do, and until the President, congress and the dilettantes who fill our state legislatures clearly recognize and support the serious and real work we are trying to accomplish in our classrooms, they can count on tepid support, or none at all.


Like most ambitious federal reforms, the No Child Left Behind Education Act of 2002 will need to be revised, perhaps several times, before it reaches maximum effectiveness. Without formally announcing them, the Obama administration has made clear that it wants changes in the law, which could be reauthorized this year. For starters, it would like more effective mechanisms for intervening in failing schools and ways to reward schools that make rapid improvements.

But it will be no less important to protect what is good in the law and resist pressure from powerful forces -- teachers' unions, state governments and other groups --that may seek to weaken it. In particular, the administration and Congress need to preserve and strengthen provisions that hold states accountable for placing a qualified teacher in every classroom and closing the achievement gap between poor children and their wealthy contemporaries.

Critics like to say that No Child Left Behind, former President George W. Bush's signature education law, has failed. But for all its flaws, the law has focused the country on student achievement as never before. The program got off to a poor start. States were allowed to keep unqualified teachers and phony up graduation rates, and test scores are still not where they should be. But the achievement gap will continue to narrow if we keep working at it.

Before No Child Left Behind, most states covered up the gap by simply not reporting or analyzing test score data by race, gender or income. The law ended that practice by requiring states to provide yearly breakdowns of student achievement data along racial, ethnic and economic lines. Schools that fail to meet measurable achievement targets in math and reading can be forced into restructuring.

Even so, improvements are in order. Education Secretary Arne Duncan notes that the current law fails to distinguish between schools that miss their targets because they are permanently mired in failure and schools that miss their targets but are still making rapid progress. The administration and Congress should find a way to recognize and reward schools that are moving forward without opening the floodgates to a new round of fraud and evasion.

In addition, a little-known loophole known as the safe harbor provision allows schools that miss their goals to claim to have met them through statistical sleight of hand. This loophole should be closed.

In the end, the administration̢۪s most important task will be holding the line against critics who complain that the law is too onerous. Recently, for instance, Mr. Duncan seemed to back away from a crucial provision in the law that requires schools to make progress along a prescribed timeline in exchange for federal dollars.

He was roundly criticized for this, though he later said that he was misinterpreted. Giving up on the idea of linking federal dollars to measurable progress would take us back to the bad-old days when education reform consisted of vague aspirations with no action plans, no timelines and, ultimately, few results.

— Editorial
New York Times


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