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NCLB Outrages

Ad Challenges Dems on ‘No Child’ Law

Ohanian Comment: As I know from personal experience, when Rotherham disagrees with someone and can't muster an argument, he calls his opponent "paranoid."

The ad must have done some good. However, one might ask Education Week why they gave more space to Rotherham than to the ad.

Reporter's Notebook

Convention delegates flipping through copies of the Boston Globe on Monday might have stumbled upon a provocative quarter-page advertisement with the headline: "No Child Left Behind?"

The ad, signed by more than 100 classroom teachers, parents, noted education advocates, and others, suggests the federal law is part of a plan by President Bush "to privatize America's public schools," and that it threatens thousands of schools with closure. The law, the ad argues, encourages "lying about the facts" and "uses blacklists to banish professionals, institutions, methods, and books."

Ken Goodman, a professor emeritus of language and literacy at the University of Arizona in Tucson, took the lead in getting the ad placed in the July 26 edition of the Globe. He raised $11,500 to pay for it, accepting small contributions as well as $500 from a California teacher and $2,000 from a group called the California Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education.

Addressing John Kerry, John Edwards and the Democratic Party, the ad declares, "Teachers need your support to save our schools from the punitive law misleadingly labeled No Child Left Behind ... "

Sens. Kerry and Edwards, along with most other Democratic congressional delegates here, voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. As candidates for the White House, both have suggested the law needs some changes, but the ad calls for stronger medicine.

"Will the Democratic Party commit to getting rid of NCLB?" it asks.

The ad quickly drew fire.

"It's outrageous," said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "There are legitimate criticisms of No Child Left Behind, but that ad seems to go out of its way to avoid them."

Mr. Rotherham, a strong supporter of the law, described some of the criticisms levied as "paranoid."

"We've been having difficulty getting through to the Kerry campaign that NCLB and the attack on public education is an important issue," Mr. Goodman said. "We thought we'd try to get their attention with an ad in the Boston Globe as the convention opens."

He added, "This [law] is a frontal attack on public education."

The ad aims some heavy blows at the law: "Passed by a bipartisan vote, NCLB will close the majority of American elementary schools, or will allow them to be taken over by the state or profit-making businesses."

It also suggests that the law "drives students and teachers out of schools and encourages lying about the facts," and "bases all decision-making on test scores."

Mr. Goodman believes the presumptive Democratic nominee needs to take a tough stand against the federal law. "Unless he takes a strong position, he's going to lose a lot of votes from teachers and parents," he warned. "This is something that parents are angry about."

But Mr. Rotherham suggests that the ad's rhetoric may well undermine its mission.

"Hysterical paranoia went out of style after the primaries, when John Kerry [prevailed]," Mr. Rotherham said.

"Ads like this hurt the cause of people seeking changes in No Child Left Behind, rather than help it," he added. "Your average person sees an ad like that and is going to smell weirdness, not reasoned debate."

— Erik W. Robelen
Education Week


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