No Child Left Behind is one of those laws made like a Bismarckian sausage.  The more the public knew what was in it, the more unappealing it was and difficult to swallow, politically.  The idea of some such legislation was proposed by President George W. Bush in January of 2001.  Many schools were not doing a good job of educating America’s young.  Something, anything, had to done.  The original legislation, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 , was coauthored by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA), and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH). Passed by both houses of Congress, by June 14, 2001, President Bush signing it into law on January 8, 2002.

Everyone involved seemed delighted.  Look at all of those smiles.  The president had looked for a bipartisan bill.  He got that, but bipartisan means no one was truly happy with it.  Conservatives had sought real reform of the education system, including parental choice and liberals wanted more money and strength for teacher’s unions.  The result really pleased no one and left some matters wide open because the legislators simply could not agree what must be done.  Chester Finn, at the time:
To avoid deadlock, Senate-House conferees punted some sticky issues to the Education Department to resolve. Among them: determining what constitutes acceptable state tests; establishing criteria by which to approve a state’s school accountability plan; defining “qualified” teachers; and deciding how broadly to interpret a clause that lets schools avoid sanctions if their students make lesser gains than those required under the bill’s “adequate yearly progress” provision. With such weighty matters come many smaller issues, and their handling will determine what effect this legislation actually has in millions of separate classrooms.

It has been awful.  We are all sick of NCLB, which is like a sausage flavored as both a spicy Bratwurst and Bob Evans Maple Breakfast all at once.   It is a great example of bipartisanship and the kind of legislation that is produced when everyone agrees that, “Something must be done!” and democratically tries to do everything everyone wants all at once rather than do anything coherent that might offend someone.

Now something must be done about NCLB, but instead of tossing the whole darn thing and starting over through the current divisive Congress, the Obama Administration is taking the executive route and granting waivers, the latest to Washington and Wisconsin.  At what point does this waiver process nullify the law?  That is the question asked in  “No Child’ Law Whittled Down by White House , by Motoko Rich.  Having had enough with political impasse, “The waivers appear to follow an increasingly deliberate pattern by the administration to circumvent lawmakers, as it did last month when it granted hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation . The administration has also unveiled policies to prevent drug shortages, raise fuel economy standards and cut refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages. ”

I’ll let the other issues go for now.  Yet what surprise is there in Progressives letting experts take matters in hand when there is little chance of compromise between the two parties in the legislative process?  After all, something must be done and we can safely leave what that is to the experts who had done such a wonderful job interpreting and implementing NCLB over the last twelve years.  Perhaps as a result, the waivers contain much in the way of real reform.  From  Fox News ,

Washington’s waiver application emphasized its embrace of new national education standards, the state’s new teacher and principal evaluations, and its efforts to take a broader look at student achievement beyond reading and math by also testing for writing and science.

The waiver agreement requires that by 2018, Washington cut in half achievement gaps between various ethnic and economic groups, when compared with 100 percent passage rates. For example, if one group had 74 percent passing reading in 2011, that group would need to have 87 percent passing by 2018.

The agreement adds another requirement for Title I schools, which are high-poverty public schools that get extra money from the federal government to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind.

We see tinkering with a failed recipe here.  A little more of this and a little less of that and the main point is that schools at risk get more money.  Let’s consider that.  Federal spending on K-12 education has about doubled since 2001.  State and local spending have certainly not declined.  Where is the value in increased spending?  In my state of Ohio, districts now spend between $8,000 and $15,000 per student per year. I read from critics that we are 46th in the country in spending on education.  It seems like a lot of money to me, but the results are not pleasing.  Of the students who go on to college, 43-46% need some sort of remediation in math or English. Current modes of K_12 education do not seem productive.  Reform is needed more than money.  But please, no more experimentation.  As Thomas Sowell recently noted, “Education may be the only field of human endeavor where experiments always seem to succeed — as judged by their advocates.”

I suppose there is a difference between literacy and functional literacy.  Statistics for literacy in the U.S. indicate that 95% of our population is literate.  What is the standard of literacy?  Perhaps that is our problem.  We ask so little of our students.  Sowell’s article speaks to that.  We need to do something about the delivery of education, but not just anything.   Perhaps, since real decline in quality have occurred in the years since the federal government became more fully engaged in regulating education, the answer might be taking the federal government out of public education.  That would be a radical reform.Rather than liberating students, we could liberate the system, at least until we can see what works and what doesn’t.  At the moment we have a bad recipe for education and need something in better taste with more nutrition.

UPDATE:  This , by David Brooks, about how Henry V would have fared in a modern public school. It’s no place for warriors.

Thanks to Joe Knippenberg.



Articles by Kate Pitrone


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