NCLB At 10

My take on what the law did and didn’t do is this week’s School of Thought at TIME:

Bashing the No Child Left Behind Act has become so politically popular that it’s easy to forget how overwhelmingly bipartisan it was — the legislation passed the House with 384 votes and the Senate with 91. As the law marks its 10-year anniversary on Jan. 8, it’s important to look at both its successes and its failures. Did NCLB solve all of our public education problems? No. But it set a lot of good things in motion and was specifically designed to be revised after five or six years (in a reauthorization that has yet to happen and is unlikely to before this year’s election.) The No Child law didn’t get everything right the first time, but that’s the wrong yardstick. If we held other policy areas — think food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security — to the same standard No Child is held to these days, i.e., flawlessness, then we would have jettisoned those and many other worthy programs long ago.

You don’t need to make it to a diamond anniversary to read the entire column at TIME by clicking here.

2 Replies to “NCLB At 10”

  1. Congratulations on writing the most intellectually honest – perhaps the first intelectually – retrospective by someone who still supports NCLB-type accountability. (I’m confident that some others who claim that NCLB or “NCLB era” “consequential accountability” worked are just playing the game and don’t really believe it)

    You wrote,” No Child’s requirements made clear just how ill-prepared almost every state education department is to lead a system of a high-performing schools. Compliance and bookkeeping rather than innovation and a focus on outcomes for students became the norm.”

    The question is how come “reformers,” especially liberal ones, did not know that in 2001?

    You also wrote that the lack of accountability doesn’t work in education any more than Wall Street. We can agree there. The question is whether the output-driven accountability systems of the last generation had a snowball’s chance of making things better.

    To claim that consequential accountability could have transformed education would be lie saying that Dodd-Frank, or whatever compromise that you want, could create a transformed 21st century economy. You can make rules, but unless you build an economy, what do you have? That’s why most liberals abandoned social engineering back during the Trotsky days. The Ed Trust, of course, did not. They blithely took tools that HELPED fight racial discrimination, and assumed that they could force people to invent new systems.

    Great economies, like great education systems, and social justice, come from “all of the above” as they evolve historically. Accountability can deter abuses, but it creates nothing. The idea that accountability could have driven the creation of great schools makes VooDoo economics look reality-based.

    Accountability can deter the most abusive practices, and if the contemporary “reformers” had stuck to their knitting i.e. paperwork compliance, they could have done some (albeit boring) good. The idea they could force educators to solve the problem of poverty was preposterous then and now. It was no more than “cheap grace,” claiming to be on the side of the angels, but without a connection to the real world.

  2. Great article. I sat on a school improvement team of an elementary school with stellar mean test scores. We were forced by NCLB to pay attention to those who fell below the mean rather than just turning aside from those children and their academic challenges. If the intent of NCLB was to get school officials and educators to pay attention to all students–including those with challenges–then it has been successful. Maybe not 100% successful, but it has changed how some schools go about the business of educating students.

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