Everyone Claims Victory on Education: Who to Believe?

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Dan Brown Director, Future Educators Association, Author of "The Great Expectations School"

America's "report card," the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), tabulated by the U.S. Department of Education, came out recently and everyone -- on every side of the No Child Left Behind debate -- declared victory.

Overall. the NAEP claimed math test scores are up, reading scores are stagnant, and eighth grade reading has slightly declined.

George W. Bush said the numbers -- test scores from a sample of over 700,000 students nationwide -- looked outstanding, and declared (with suspect grammar), "Childrens do learn when standards are high are results are measured."

Democrat Edward Kennedy, who aggressively pushed for No Child Left Behind's original passage, said in a press release, "These national test scores show that the hard work of teachers, parents and students in Massachusetts is paying off... We'll do all we can at the national level to improve the No Child Left Behind law so that it works better for our teachers, school children and schools... These scores are reason to celebrate, but they're also cause for resolve in finishing the job."

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing was not so excited. Organization leader Monty Neill argued, "NAEP shows educational improvement across the nation slowed significantly since NCLB went into effect. This happened despite the fact that curriculum narrowed in many schools to little more than test preparation in reading and math. Gains from 2000 to 2003, before NCLB went into effect, were significantly greater than they were from 2003 to 2007, when NCLB was the law. That deflates the administration's claims that federal law is driving school improvement."

Monty Neill's point about the NCLB-inspired narrowing school curriculum for test preparation, supported by a major recent report by the Center on Education Policy, is critical. No Child Left Behind has drastically changed the way students spend their school days. Has the elevation of focus on testing been worth it?

Who should we believe as the No Child Left Behind reauthorization debate rages? Do the Bush Administration or Senator Kennedy still have credibility on this issue? The "Miller-McKeon NCLB Discussion Draft," currently circulating in Congress actually expands the culture of high-stakes testing. Now is a pivotal moment for citizens' voices to be heard on this policy.

Dan Brown is a teacher and the author of the new memoir "The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle."