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No Child Left Behind 10 Years Later

Posted on Jan 7, 2012
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With the broadly lamented education bill turning 10 on Sunday and Congress and the White House divided over how to update it, Dana Goldstein at The Nation considers the effects of some of the law’s mainstays: the spotlight on the achievement gap, standardized testing, the rhetoric of failing schools and upper-middle-class alienation. —ARK

Dana Goldstein at The Nation:

An increase in standardized testing. NCLB required standardized testing in 4th through 8th grade English and math, which led to a narrowing of the curriculum as science, computing, the arts, and physical education were cut from the schedule in many high-poverty schools—those under the most pressure to demonstrate test score gains in basic skills. The Obama administration would like to address the issue of curriculum-narrowing by rewriting NCLB to also require test score growth in science, social studies, and other subjects. This would be better than doing nothing to change the law’s testing mandates, but would increase the number of hours and days schools spend on testing and test-prep. In practice, additional testing is usually unpopular with parents and teachers, potentially triggering a backlash to the entire notion of aggressive, federally-led school reform. Efforts to address the shortcomings of testing with more testing ignore the fact that—as in other historical periods when schools were asked to quickly raise test scores—there has been widespread evidence of an increase in cheating and tampering with test answer sheets since NCLB went into effect.

A rhetoric of “failing” schools. Kevin Carey has fairly pointed out that NCLB is long on mandates, but short on actual punishments for schools that fail to meet their annual test-score targets. Even so, the media conversation around the law has generated a national consensus that our public education system is failing. The real story is more complex; even in relatively bleak public school districts like the one in Newark, NJ, there are pockets of true excellence.

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