Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Gerald Bracey Headshot

Neuman Comes Clean on No Child Left Behind

Posted: Updated:

So now we know. All of us "paranoids" were right all along. From the beginning, some of us saw vouchers and privatization lurking behind No Child Left Behind. We were shouted down. If I had a dollar for every story I read complimenting the law on its intent and lamenting only its implementation, I'd have at least enough bucks for dinner and wine at a fine restaurant.

But now we know. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education at the time of the crime, admitted in the June 8 issue of Time, that some in the administration saw NCLB as a 'Trojan horse" for the choice agenda, "'a way to expose the failure of public education' and 'blow it up a bit', she says. 'There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization.'"

Reporter Claudia Wallis also destroys the internal logic of the program. Too bad it took her, and virtually everyone else, six years:

"There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind, the ambitious law often described as the Bush Administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the view of many educators (and, I would add, anyone with a grain of common sense--JB), the law's 2014 goal--which calls for all public school students in grades 3 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in reading and math--is something no educational system anywhere on earth has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3% with serious handicaps and other issues) is supposed to be achieving on grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that children start off in different places academically and grow at different rates."

I'd want to get rid of that word "slightly" in the above paragraph but other than that it's pretty much dead on although it doesn't mention that NCLB is mostly stick, little carrot.

Actually, Claudia, the law doesn't mention "grade level" referring to skills. Everyone has got to be "proficient." The transmogrification of proficient (which makes people think of NAEP, where the ridiculously high achievement levels are basic, proficient and advanced) into grade level started towards the end of Rod Paige's tenure and has been promoted ad nauseam by both Bush and Spellings. Spellings has never defined it explicitly. She can't. Nor can anyone else. For Spellings, it apparently means scoring proficient on the test that a state uses to measure Annual Yearly Progress. We thus have 50+ definitions of grade level.

("Grade Level," by the way, has always been arbitrary, but in the days of norm-referenced tests, it had a common meaning: it was the score of the average child in a particular grade when the test was being normed. It was thus a floating standard as norm-referenced tests have to be re-normed every few years, but at least everyone understood what it meant. It did bother some who did not like the notion that, by definition, 50% of all children were always below grade level).

By the time Bush and Spellings leave, slinking out under cloak of night one would hope so as not to be tarred and feathered, NCLB will have provided seven years of educational Hell. As Joanne Yatvin said in her powerful presidential speech to the National Council of Teachers of English, the people who designed NCLB "do not understand learning, teaching or human behavior."