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NCLB Outrages

To Keep its Promise, NCLB Needs Overhaul

Ohanian Comment: It is disappointing that FairTest fails to acknowledge the corporate agenda driving NCLB. They report on a national obsession with using standardized test scores to drive school improvement when in reality it is a corporate plan which a neglegent media parrots. What we have in this report is a catalog of atrocity, useful enough in a small way. But the public--and educators, too-- need to understand the source of NCLB atrocities if we are serious about organizing a grass roots fight to save public schools.

Read the Full Report at the url below.

Rather than fulfill the promise of its title, the controversial "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law has damaged education quality and equity because of its flawed assumptions and arbitrary requirements. NCLB must be thoroughly overhauled if the federal government is to make a useful contribution to strengthening education in U.S. schools, particularly for low-income and minority group students.

Based on evidence collected from several years of school experience around the nation, FairTest has documented a series of basic flaws in NCLB, including:

The law falsely assumes that boosting test scores should be the primary goal of schools, an approach that has not improved education when implemented by individual states;
Education is being damaged as students are coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum that will help prepare them for life in the 21st Century;
Widespread school "failure" is an inevitable outcome of NCLB's one-size-fits-all design because of rigid "adequate yearly progress" provisions, which set unrealistic goals for academic gains, punish diversity, and ignore the fact that test results are frequently inaccurate;
NCLB's school transfer policy undermines ongoing reform programs because it often unfairly stigmatizes the sending schools, is costly in time and other resources, and disruptive to teachers and students in both sending and receiving schools. The kinds of heavy-handed sanctions ("restructuring") required for schools that do not boost test scores have previously been shown to be counter-productive;
The requirement that limited English proficient students score "proficient" on English exams is self-contradictory, as is the provision that most children with special needs demonstrate competency in the same manner as other students; and
The federal government has failed to adequately fund the law.
NCLB is based on testing, blaming and punishing. A more helpful accountability system would focus first on building the capacity of teachers, schools and districts to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education that meets their individual needs. Core elements of the accountability systems FairTest proposes to better promote school improvement include:

Use of multiple forms of evidence of student learning, not just test scores;
Extensive professional development that enables teachers to better assess and assist their students;
Public reporting on school progress in academic and non-academic areas, using a variety of information sources and including improvement plans; and
The sparing use of external interventions, such as school reorganization, while giving reform efforts sufficient time to succeed.
Assessment systems must make public schools accountable to parents, students and the local community rather than to distant government bureaucracies. Some states, such as Nebraska, are having success with models based on these principles.

Those who seek to fundamentally change NCLB face enormous obstacles on Capitol Hill—from both President Bush and key Republicans as well as many Democrats. However, the inevitable crisis in the law will propel a variety of calls for change. FairTest will continue working with educators, civil rights organizations, and parent and community groups to build the power to win positive changes to the law.


This is the first in a set of papers by leading scholars and advocates on key education topics that The Revitalizing Education Project, an initiative of the Campaign for America's Future, will release over the next year.

— Monty Neill and Lisa Guisbond, FairTest
The Revitalizing Education Project/Campaign for America's Future


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