A Stern Warning for NCLB Foes

In the Summer 2004 City Journal Sol Stern takes a look at No Child Left Behind, its origins, status quo, and prospects.   Parts of the article are the journalistic equivalent of a lap dance – some squirming and faux enthusiasm but no real payoff.  That said, it’s well worth reading because: (a) It shows many of the counters of the debate today, and (b) Stern gives a peak at the Republican hole card should an overhaul of NCLB become a real possibility.


Stern notes that a lot of schools are being identified as needing improvement under NCLB’s parameters for “adequate yearly progress,” causing angst in many communities.  He offers the deal that will likely be part of the Republican endgame should push come to shove on NCLB:


“… the top education reform goal of a second Bush administration should be to revisit NCLB’s accountability and choice provisions when the act’s reauthorization comes due in 2006. Since the branding of so many schools as “failing” has vexed public school officials around the country, President Bush, along with his education reform allies in Congress, could offer Democrats this deal: “Let’s agree to limit the number of schools considered failing, but if we can’t find room in successful public schools for the kids from the really bad schools, then at least let’s give those children a chance at private schools.”


This sort of gambit is what is waiting in the wings, which is why NCLB foes would be wise to tread lightly.  It will be interesting to see if the urban schools are willing to stand by while suburban schools get let of the hook for comparable achievement gaps.


By the way, the root cause of the strictness of the accountability system?  Well, it’s not this gem of revisionism (Quick!  Look out for the falling anvil!):


A second concession changed the definition of a failing school, since liberal Democrats wanted to include not just schools with consistently atrocious test results for all students, but also those in which a small racial or ethnic subgroup was doing poorly, even if most of their classmates were doing fine. “Some of the Democrats on the other side didn’t want to say that it’s okay to have one group falling behind in a school,” recalls the administration’s point man in the negotiations, Sandy Kress, a former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “In effect, they were telling us that if you really want to say, ‘No Child Left Behind,’ then let’s really leave no child behind.”

Hmmm…didn’t the President campaign on the importance of disaggregated results and how integral they were to the Texas model?  Besides, minority kids in suburban schools deserve a fair shake, too, don’t they?  And NCLB doesn’t require states and districts to respond to poor subgroup results with whole school interventions, only interventions targeted to improve results for the specific subgroup, so these rules are less onerous than they’re commonly made out to be.

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