NO CHILD LEFT . . . .

Sam Smith

If you’re serious about teaching, the No Child Left Behind Law is the educational equivalent of creationism: faith parading as facts and blocking changes that recognition of the facts would require.

It’s not surprising given that the idea was shoved down the country’s throat by George Bush because, like the perp’s other policies, it represents a happy mixture of fantasy combined with lucrative payoffs to political buddies – in this case including book and curricula publishers.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Business Week which reported a couple of years go:

||||| Across the country, some teachers complain that President George W. Bush’s makeover of public education promotes “teaching to the test.” The President’s younger brother Neil takes a different tack: He’s selling to the test. The No Child Left Behind Act compels schools to prove students’ mastery of certain facts by means of standardized exams. Pressure to perform has energized the $1.9 billion-a-year instructional software industry.

Now, after five years of development and backing by investors like Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken, Neil Bush aims to roll his high-tech teacher’s helpers into classrooms nationwide. He calls them “curriculum on wheels,” or COWs. The $3,800 purple plug-and-play computer/projectors display lively videos and cartoons: the XYZ Affair of the late 1790s as operetta, the 1828 Tariff of Abominations as horror flick. The device plays songs that are supposed to aid the memorization of the 22 rivers of Texas or other facts that might crop up in state tests of “essential knowledge.”

Bush’s Ignite! Inc. has sold 1,700 COWs since 2005, mainly in Texas, where Bush lives and his brother was once governor. In August, Houston‘s school board authorized expenditures of up to $200,000 for COWs. The company expects 2006 revenue of $5 million. Says Bush about the impact of his name: “I’m not saying it hasn’t opened any doors. It may have helped with some sales.” . . .

The stars haven’t always aligned for Bush, but at times financial support has. A foundation linked to the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon has donated $1 million for a COWs research project in Washington (D.C.)-area schools. In 2004 a Shanghai chip company agreed to give Bush stock then valued at $2 million for showing up at board meetings. (Bush says he received one-fifth of the shares.) In 1988 a Colorado savings and loan failed while he served on its board, making him a prominent symbol of the S&L scandal. Neil calls himself “the most politically damaged of the [Bush] brothers.” ||||

And how has it all worked out in the classroom? Here’s a taste from the New York Times earlier this year:

|||| President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report.

The program, known as Reading First, drew on some of Mr. Bush’s educational experiences as Texas governor, and at his insistence Congress included it in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation that passed by bipartisan majorities in 2001. . .

“Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension,” concluded the report, which was mandated by Congress and carried out by the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. “The program did not increase the percentages of students in grades one, two or three whose reading comprehension scores were at or above grade level.”. . .

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the education committee, and who has long criticized the program, said, “The Bush administration has put cronyism first and the reading skills of our children last, and this report shows the disturbing consequences.”

In 2006, John Higgins, the department’s inspector general, reported that federal officials and private contractors with ties to publishers had advised educators in several states to buy reading materials for the Reading First program from those publishers. The Reading First director, Chris Doherty, resigned in 2006, days before the release of Mr. Higgins’s report, which disclosed a number of e-mail messages in which Mr. Doherty referred to contractors or educators who favored alternative curriculums seen as competitors to the Reading First approach as “dirtbags” who he said were “trying to crash our party.” |||||

But what is truly amazing about the No Child Left scandal is that hardly anyone in power or the press considers it a scandal. Not even liberals.

Admittedly, the Democrats did cut funding – although didn’t eliminate – Reading First after it became so embarrassing, and Barack Obama wants some vague changes in the No Child Law but basically liberals are going along with one of the worst domestic programs passed in recent years.

And it’s not getting any better. The Century Foundation – on the board of which sits major Obama advisor John Podesta – has just published a book edited by senior fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg, that examines what the foundation calls “three central defects of the act: the under-funding of NCLB; the flawed implementation of the standards, testing, and accountability provisions; and major difficulties with the provisions that are designed to allow students to transfer out of failing public schools.”

Central to the argument, though, is the funding issue. If you want to increase funding for a bad law you’re making a bad law more powerful. But, says, the Century Foundation, “To date, most of the debate over the funding of No Child Left Behind has centered on the gap between authorized levels of funding and appropriations. But this discussion avoids the fundamental question: What is the true cost of NCLB’s goal of making all students academically proficient by 2014? According to new research in the book. . . federal funding would have to multiply many times over to help districts succeed in meeting even the intermediate goals of the legislation.”

What is most disturbing is the gold-plated list of liberal “partners and collaborators” provided by the Century Foundation, including the American Prospect, Campaign for America’s Future, Carnegie Corporation, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, The Center for American Progress, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Council on Foreign Relations, Drum Major Institute ,The Economic Policy Institute, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Nation, The Open Society Institute, Common Cause, People for the American Way Leadership and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In other words, the very people who should be guiding us out of this mess are trying to save No Child for the indefinite future.

No Child is the first piece of legislation to make the teaching of Asperger’s syndrome a national policy. The manifestations of this form of autism has been described as including “poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness,” which is also some of the predictable payoff when students are locked behind desks, answering specific questions with little chance to learn judgment, imagination or wisdom; no time to experiment or relate learned facts to real life, and – of course – no time left for the playground. The typical higher functioning autistic is bright but unable to relate factual knowledge to a social environment. It is how No Child is training our kids.

At a session with about a hundred DC high schoolers a few years ago, I was struck by how hard it was for them to ask questions, even ones having to deal with issues that directly concerned them such as violence and drugs. I mentioned this to a teacher friend who responded quickly that according to the system, “they’re not meant to ask questions: they’re just meant to answer them.”

And that pretty well sums up the problem. With the help of No Child we are teaching a generation of kids how to answer questions but not how to ask them, how to collect facts but not how to use them; to add and subtract numbers, but how to measure the impact of conflicting human choices,and how relate to data but not with other people.

A GUIDE TO NCLB FAILURES

Disappointing Results
Failing Schools
Lack of Quality Teachers
Lowering of Standards
Narrowing of Curriculum
Ignoring of Children
Fear, Shame and Threats
Bad Tests
Fake Results
Educational Triage
Factory Style Learning
Loss of Best Teachers
Loss of Future Teachers
Loss of Morale
Drop Outs and Push Outs
Reduction in Time for Learning
Stagnation

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One thought on “NO CHILD LEFT . . . .

  1. The gallery of people and parties you list that support the basic objective of NCLB but want to see it receive greater funding, liberal, progressive or whatever umbrella they fit under, are not, and this will sound counter-intuitive, are not friends of improved education. I know, this charge is difficult to grasp as the Carnegie Foundation, et al. have been, in one way or another, stalwart proponents, leaders in the effort to improve our nation’s educational system. What their efforts and those of Neil Bush’s purple cow are improving are the same. The goals are encapsulated in a treatise written by a long forgotten Harvard educator named Alexander Inglis. The book is called “The Purposes of Secondary Education.” Google Books has the entire volume scanned and ready for you. It should help put in perspective the dilemma of high school students who don’t know how to ask questions.Happy reading.Aaron

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