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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind has been educational disaster

Jim Horn discussed this very matter on Schools Matter blog. Good for Robert Morrow getting it into mass media.

We tend to talk to ourselves. We need to reach out to the public.

By Robert D. Morrow

It's not often you get the inside scoop on legislation that has completely polarized educators and the public. However, such is the case with "true confessions" from Susan Neuman, a respected educator, University of the Pacific graduate and early federal driving force behind the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

Tracking her rise from grad student to college professor to assistant secretary of education can be compared to watching a chameleon change colors. Her career in higher education has been one of kudos bestowed on her as she became a top-notch researcher and a major supporter of early-childhood education. Her teaching journey took her from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and, currently, to the University of Michigan. She's established herself as a respected voice for early-childhood educators.

Unfortunately, something happened on her way to D.C.

Neuman's colleagues seemed puzzled after she was called to Washington. P. David Pearson, dean of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, worked with Neuman when they served as co-directors of Michigan's Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Ability. He calls her "a first-rate researcher."

But like a lot of Neuman admirers, Pearson observed a dramatic transformation after her appointment by President George W. Bush.

"Boy, it was a sea change," Pearson said. "Rigor - really the illusion of rigor - rather than resources became her mantra. She was speaking out in favor of approaches she had opposed in her research. She began talking like a true believer." (Andrew Brownstein, 2008)

One of the first NCLB bombshells landed in our neck of the woods, on a visit to her old stomping grounds, the Pacific campus and local schools. In a much-cited news conference at Clairmont Elementary School, Neuman, said, "The new federal No Child Left Behind Act, if implemented the right way, will put an end to creative and experimental teaching methods in the nation's classrooms. It will stifle, and hopefully it will kill (them)." Neuman added, "Our children are not laboratory rats." (The Record, Oct. 25, 2002)

This was the quote heard around the world. It's one that reverberated throughout schools at all levels. Most educators were shocked when she uttered these words.

Alas, Neuman recently has gotten religion.

She now reflects on her brief (2002-03) but enthusiastic stay in D.C. with some regrets. One observer notes that she is attempting to "reinvent herself" with statements such as:

"Here, then, are my list of lessons learned the hard way.

"1. Don't leave educational reform to the feds. The federal bureaucracy is ill-equipped to shape reform. In my stint" as assistant secretary of education, "the Title I office (the office that oversees funds aimed at helping high numbers or high percentages of poor children meet state academic standards) had some employees who were well past retirement age. Good-hearted people but not exactly the change-agent types.

"2. Don't insult your clients. Teachers have been blamed, maligned and targeted as failures, while it's these very same individuals who are supposedly responsible for school reforms. The next education bill would do well to highlight the many teachers who are changing the odds daily for children in schools, especially in low-income areas.

"3. Listen. Outsiders from research tanks to lobbying groups had evidence that the adequate yearly progress goals of NCLB wouldn't work - that they would vastly overestimate the number of failing schools and underestimate the number of schools that could be better with only minor tinkering. Instead, the get-tough philosophy has drawn all schools down, giving the false notion that our school systems are not working. They are working for the majority of children.

"4. Poverty trumps everything. It's not the 'soft bigotry of low expectations' that is the problem with our schools. It's poverty. Children who come to school unhealthy, hungry, yearning for attention and nurturance can hardly concentrate on learning. We need a broader, bolder approach to reform, one that recognizes the inextricable connections between health, social-emotional development, and cognitive growth and learning." (Neuman, 2008)

Her comments are much too late. Unfortunately, we are all living with the aftermath of NCLB legislation she so strongly endorsed and has now renounced.

As one of her doctoral dissertation committee members, I'd like to ask her, "Susan, don't you owe all hardworking, creative, tireless teachers an apology?"

(Note: I contacted Susan and invited her to send her current thoughts on NCLB. Her response: "No time.")

Contact Robert D. Morrow, a professor emeritus at University of the Pacific, at rmorrow@pacific.edu.

— Robert D. Morrow
Stockton Record


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