The ESEA [No Child Left Behind Act] is like a Russian novel. That’s because it’s long, it’s complicated, and in the end, everybody gets killed. –Scott Howard, former superintendent, Perry, Ohio, public schools
The Ohio Business Roundtable strongly supports the No Child Left Behind Act. –Richard Stoff, president, Ohio Business Roundtable
At first, many people liked the sound of “No Child Left Behind,” President Bush’s education plan. Who could object? The press and the public responded positively to the sentiment–until the failure-to-measure-up labels started rolling in. But now, New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip says NCLB (pronounced “nicklebee”) “may go down in history as the most unpopular piece of education legislation ever created.”
Across the country, thousands of federal scarlet letters have been posted on schoolhouse doors. According to a Machiavellian federal formula, many schools well respected in their communities didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In Florida, only 22 percent of the schools earning A’s under the state’s ranking system received the NCLB imprimatur; overall, 87 percent of Florida’s public schools were judged inadequate. NCLB wonks are quick to point out that nowhere in the law is the word failure used. True. But everybody reads the “in need of improvement” tag as a euphemism for failure. And schools “in need of improvement” are penalized, so the distinction is a sham.
Note that these labels apply only to public schools. Private and parochial schools are exempt from the same requirements–even when they receive vouchers paid for with public funds.
Under what is termed disaggregation, a scheme central to NCLB, kids are divided into subgroups, every one of which must show 95 percent test participation (and progress). Here are Minnesota’s: All Students, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Black, White, Limited English Proficient, Special Education, Free/Reduced Priced Meals. It’s true that in the past, schools could hide poor performance of, say, special-ed students by averaging it in with that of excellent students. Pulling out the subgroups creates what is called transparency. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But under NCLB, transparency is transmuted into school-bashing. In the words of the North Carolina State Board of Education, “A school’s making AYP is an all or nothing prospect. A school will either have ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in this field.” One of Palo Alto’s top high schools received a scarlet letter because some students skipped the test to study for AP exams.