NCLB Backlash

The critics of No Child Left Behind now include many leaders of the Republican party. There are 57 Republicans including House Minority whip, Roy Blunt, and Senator Mel Martinez, the Chair of the Republican National Committee, who have signed on to the bill would allow any state that objected to the law’s standards and testing to excuse itself from those requirements and still receive federal school aid.

But, the real resistance is happening on the state level. Marc Fisher has a great article in today’s Washington Post profiling a Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Jack Dale.

…the superintendent of Fairfax County schools, who presides over one of the highest-achieving systems in the land, has taken a stand at the schoolhouse door: “The last thing I’m going to do is subject some third-grader to tears because someone’s standing over them saying, ‘You must complete [this standardized test], you must complete.’ That’s not happening. Let them fire me for it.”

In the next couple of weeks, either Dale or the U.S. government will blink. Until then, threats and counterthreats are flying across the Potomac. Dale, backed up by his school board and several other Northern Virginia superintendents, insists he will not require newly arrived immigrant children to take the same reading test that other kids take. And the feds reply: Oh, yes, you will — and if you don’t, you’ll lose $17 million in federal dollars.

Fisher pulls no punches in describing the flaws of NCLB.

No Child Left Behind is built on a mirage. At some point that’s always just over the horizon, the law assumes, all children in the nation will miraculously read and compute at grade level, simply because they have been tested and tested and tested again. The theory is that somehow, when told the exact number of children who are lagging in achievement, teachers will agree to render the magic that they have thus far withheld and — poof! — those kids will become smart, cooperative and productive.

As we get closer to that utopia, it’s becoming ever more clear that Some Children Remain Behind and that, gadzooks, Not Every Child Is the Same. Oh, and this: Staking everything on a test doesn’t produce a flowering of inspired teaching, but rather what Dale, a former math teacher, calls an “obsessive focus on tests.”

What this is really all about, the superintendent thinks, is an unresolved debate over whether there should be national education standards. Remember, the same people who now mandate Testing Uber Alles were pushing two decades ago to abolish any federal role in education. Under the No Child law, designed by a purportedly conservative administration, the amount of time that a superintendent such as Dale must spend satisfying the federal bureaucracy has skyrocketed from hardly any to hours and hours each week.

No Child Left Behind is built on a lie. Not every kid will go to college, no matter what you do. So you can either lower the standards enough to pretend that everyone is succeeding, or give up on the lie.

Don’t hold your breath that an educational leader in Idaho will demonstrate the same bravery and strength of character shown by Jack Dale.

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