A lot of NCLB opponents were hoping USS Barack Obama (D-IL) would attack No Child Left Behind following the lead of Illinois Senator Durbin (D) who has sparred with Senator Kennedy over the law. Sorry! Turns out Obama has a pretty good sense of the lay of the land and the way to go. From his speech at the Center for American Progress earlier this week:
You know the arguments. On one side, you’ll hear conservatives who will look at children without textbooks and classrooms without computers and say money doesn’t matter. On the other side, you’ll find liberals who will look at failing test scores and failing schools and not realize how much reform matters. One side will blame teachers, and the other side will never ask them to change. Some will say that no matter what you do, some children just can’t learn. Others will make excuses for them when they won’t learn.
Some will say that the same public school system that succeeded for generations must now be dismantled and privatized, no matter who it leaves behind. And others will defend the status quo in these schools even when they fail to teach our kids.
Like most ideological debates, this one assumes that there’s an “either-or” answer to our education problems. Either we need to pour more money into the system, or we need to reform it with more tests and standards.
But we don’t make much progress for our kids when we constrain ourselves like this. It appeared for a brief moment that the President, working with leaders like Senator Kennedy understood this, and many of us were initially encouraged by the passage of No Child Left Behind. It may not be popular to say in Democratic circles, but there were good elements to this bill – its emphasis on the achievement gap, raising standards, and accountability. Unfortunately, because of failures in implementation, particularly its failure to provide adequate funding and a failure to design better assessment tests that provide a clearer path for schools to raise achievement, the bill’s promise is not yet fulfilled.
The shortcomings of NCLB shouldn’t end the conversation, however. They should be the start of a conversation about how we can do better. Yes, it’s a moral outrage that this Administration hasn’t come through with the funding for what it claims has been its number one domestic priority. But to wage war against the entire law for that reason is not an education policy, and Democrats need to realize that.