Climbing the mountain of NCLB: a scorecard of progress

Thanks to Rachel Jachino’s presentation on a central Illinois school district’s state test scores, we have this stark image of the madness of NCLB:
  • How powerful and rational the slope, and how mountainous. For a flat-lander like, me, mountains are exciting. So if nothing else, NCLB has taken us all on an exhilarating trip up Mount Education. And while there is vision and beauty at the summit, there’s also, when you get there too quickly, oxygen loss resulting in physical and cognitive impairment.
  • The ridiculous slope of NCLB’s trendline could also be seen as a sickle, a sharp instrument that administrators can use to cut out the chaff, and cultivate the wheat in America’s teaching ranks. Certainly, events in the past Year of Hating Public Schools have shown how sharp (and yet how dull) the weapons of America’s school boards have become. Recent stories from Texas (seen here and here) show a very heavy budget ax. Too bad more thought isn’t given to the blunt force trauma that cuts in the classroom (teachers) and library (support) will surely inflict. And in Texas, of all places.

The whole issue of imposing an absurd premise on educational progress (that all sub-groups will perform at or above proficiency by 2014) needs discussion. The assumption that something as unmanageable as the human heart and head can be corralled in every American child  by a certain date is ludicrous. So you really cannot take that part literally, but rather, symbolically, as a move in the right direction.

The law should be seen as a well-intentioned tool for its time, a necessary approximation of justice, something normal in free societies. In a functioning republican democracy, legislators do their best carry out the voters’ will. But course corrections and amendments will be necessary (and that’s why we’re about to get a new revision–see below). In its effects, the 2002 law has a mixed record. While we have better metrics and data-delivery systems the achievement gap is very much with us; and pre-school reading programs with support for poor and disadvantaged “youth, children, and families” from a consortium of social agencies? Did that ever happen?

Let’s take a brief look at the provisions of Title 1 in NCLB and see who has gained–the “child” of the title, or the central powers of the educational industrial complex.



And a noble purpose it is!

The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

Now what monster could be against giving kids a chance? The “devil” of any law, however, is in its details. Watch the angel turn fiendish:

This purpose can be accomplished by —

(1) ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement;

It doesn’t say so here, but the law has also pretty well ensured that high stakes testing is the end and be all of “high-quality.” What this does to innovative teaching and learning is negative. Score one for Centralizers.

(2) meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation’s highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading assistance;

Back to the kids. Yes. Who is against this assistance? Monster!

(3) closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers;

Again. Let’s make achievement equal, no respecter of person. Who dares disagree is un-American!

(4) holding schools, local educational agencies, and States accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students, and identifying and turning around low-performing schools that have failed to provide a high-quality education to their students, while providing alternatives to students in such schools to enable the students to receive a high-quality education;

And this is where “turn around” comes from. As Arne Duncan’s operation in Chicago showed, the effectiveness of the new school or sensitivity to the needs of neighborhood people don’t need to matter. The “turn around” is all.  And those “alternative to students”? = pretty much all corporate-run charters. Score another for the Central team.

(5) distributing and targeting resources sufficiently to make a difference to local educational agencies and schools where needs are greatest;

Oops! This must be where our legislators dropped the ball. The billions allocated through 2007 apprarently were not enough, since education (as the Finns teach us) cannot be remedied solely within the school, all those dollars not spent on community medical and other services nullify whatever the billions did in schools. Score another for the Centralizers, who cannot call this provision a failure, since it was not properly funded.

(6) improving and strengthening accountability, teaching, and learning by using State assessment systems designed to ensure that students are meeting challenging State academic achievement and content standards and increasing achievement overall, but especially for the disadvantaged;

Number 6 and 7 have been the guts of NCLB, driving the state-designed (and soon enough, the Common Core standard related) tests. Insofar as flexible and creative curricula have been crushed under the wheels of “data-driven decision making,” the kids lose again. 

(7) providing greater decisionmaking authority and flexibility to schools and teachers in exchange for greater responsibility for student performance;

Somehow number 8 has turned into “Let’s make them all take AP classes.” When it could be so much more. Score again for the test-maker Central.

(8) providing children an enriched and accelerated educational program, including the use of schoolwide programs or additional services that increase the amount and quality of instructional time;

As you might guess, I’m a believer in number 9, since it could be the driver behind blended ed courses.

(9) promoting schoolwide reform and ensuring the access of children to effective, scientifically based instructional strategies and challenging academic content;

But since it hasn’t happened yet (although Jeb Bush and friends are pushing it hard now), you can’t say it’s a win or a loss, yet.  No scoring this one.

Here’s one that many teachers would say, “Nope. Hasn’t happened in the last ten years” when asked. That so-called “professional development” has usually been some form of cattle call with little relevance or follow-through. But hey, for administrators it’s easier to just bring the personnel in and hose them all at once. Score for the Central Fire station. 

(10) significantly elevating the quality of instruction by providing staff in participating schools with substantial opportunities for professional development;

Finally, there are two that read as “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” One suggests there will be bureaucratic harmony among agencies (but how?), and the other throws a sop to parents, the “silent partners” in schooling.

(11) coordinating services under all parts of this title with each other, with other educational services, and, to the extent feasible, with other agencies providing services to youth, children, and families; and

(12) affording parents substantial and meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children.

So if you had to add up the NCLB box score, it’s Centralizers 5, Kids 0. Better luck next time, kids.

And in fact, there is a new game underway. Things could be different in the new NCLB. While climbing Mt. NCLB, there have been many victims. One hopes Arne Duncan and President Obama can craft a better law this year, which they have promised to do. If their  law contains unfunded mandates as were at the base of the 2002 version, it only results in left behind, un-enriched kids. It’s simple cause-effect: investment with the small child will yield positive differences years down the road. And all of the good teachers and programs that are being cut down under the NCLB sickle now could have nourished a great generation for our country.  

One hopes that all wielders of the sickle–the turn-around artists, big city mayors, feds and state boards of ed–are not beholden tPublish Posto corrupt mercenary interests in their new work, but will instead fund good programs in public or charter schools that offer improved, and less dangerous pathways up the mountain of achievement.

images responsibly sourced at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: