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NCLB Outrages

Race to the Top's 10 false assumptions

Some critics acknowledge that currently Bill Gates and Eli Broad are the real Department of Education, but as Marion Brady observes, the corporate power over education policy is longstanding. And these policy makers are clueless.

By Marion Brady

"Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other
school subjects? The high-powered push to put them in place makes it
clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy
philanthropists who've run America's education show for the last two
decades are as clueless about educating as they've always been.

If they weren't, they'd know that adopting national standards will be
counterproductive, and that the "Race to the Top" will fail for the
same reason "No Child Left Behind" failed-because it's based on false

False Assumption 1:
America's teachers deserve most of the blame for decades of flat
school performance. Other factors affecting learning-language
problems, hunger, stress, mass media exposure, transience, cultural
differences, a sense of hopelessness, and so on and on-are minor and
can be overcome by well-qualified teachers. To teacher protests that
they're scapegoats taking the blame for broader social ills, the
proper response is, "No excuses!" While it's true teachers can't
choose their students, textbooks, working conditions, curricula,
tests, or the bureaucracies that circumscribe and limit their
autonomy, they should be held fully accountable for poor student test

False Assumption 2:
Professional educators are responsible for bringing education to
crisis, so they can't be trusted. School systems should instead be
headed by business CEOs, mayors, ex-military officers, and others
accustomed to running a "tight ship." Their managerial expertise more
than compensates for how little they know about educating.

False Assumption 3:
"Rigor"-doing longer and harder what we've always done-will cure
education's ills. If the young can't clear arbitrary statistical bars
put in place by politicians, it makes good sense to raise those bars.
Because learning is neither natural nor a source of joy, externally
imposed discipline and "tough love" are necessary.

False Assumption 4:
Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the
process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from
"covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For
America" for a couple of years before moving on to more
intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue
that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually
demanding than figuring out what's going on in another person's head,
then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it,
but they're just blowing smoke.

False Assumption 5:
Notwithstanding the failure of vast experiments such as those
conducted in eastern Europe under Communism, and the evidence from
ordinary experience, history proves that top-down reforms such as No
Child Left Behind work well. Centralized control doesn't stifle
creativity, imply teacher incompetence, limit strategy options,
discourage innovation, or block the flow of information and insight
to policymakers from those actually doing the work.

False Assumption 6:
Standardized tests are free of cultural, social class, language,
experiential, and other biases, so test-taker ability to infer,
hypothesize, generalize, relate, synthesize, and engage in all other
"higher order" thought processes can be precisely measured and
meaningful numbers attached. It's also a fact that test-prep programs
don't unfairly advantage those who can afford them, that strategies
to improve the reliability of guessing correct answers can't be
taught, and that test results can't be manipulated to support
political or ideological agendas. For these reasons, test scores are
reliable, and should be the primary drivers of education policy.

False Assumption 7:
Notwithstanding the evidence from research and decades of failed
efforts, forcing merit pay schemes on teachers will revitalize
America's schools. This is because the desire to compete is the most
powerful of all human drives (more powerful even than the
satisfactions of doing work one loves). The effectiveness of, say,
band directors and biology teachers, or of history teachers and math
teachers, can be easily measured and dollar amounts attached to their
relative skill. Merit pay also has no adverse effect on collegiality,
teacher-team dynamics, morale, or school politics.

False Assumption 8:
Required courses, course distribution requirements, Carnegie Units,
and other bureaucratic demands and devices that standardize the
curriculum and limit teacher and learner options are products of
America's best thinkers about what the young need to know. Those
requirements should, then, override individual learner interests,
talents, abilities, and all other factors affecting freedom of choice.

False Assumption 9:
Notwithstanding charter schools' present high rates of teacher
turnover, their growing standardization by profit-seeking
corporations, or their failure to demonstrate that they can do things
all public schools couldn't do if freed from bureaucratic
constraints, charters attract the most highly qualified and
experienced teachers and are hotbeds of innovation.

False Assumption 10:
The familiar, traditional "core curriculum" in near-universal use in
America's classrooms since 1893 is the best-possible tool for
preparing the young for an unknown, unpredictable, increasingly
complex and dangerous future.

— Marion Brady
Washington Post Answer Sheet blog


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