No Child Left Behind: What Would Al Say?
Albert Shanker, the legendary president of the American Federation of Teachers, was a founding father of the modern movement for standards-based education reform in the United States. Beginning in the late 1980s, until his death in 1997, Shanker was the most visible spokesman for creating a coherent system of education standards, testing, and accountability that eventually evolved into the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Shanker’s untimely death raises the question: What would the father have thought of his orphaned child?
No one can say for sure, but having spent the past several years researching and writing a biography of Shanker, I believe he would have backed the basic thrust of No Child Left Behind—greater resources in return for greater accountability—but would have fought to change several of the federal law’s deviations from his original vision for standards-based reform.
Today, the education standards movement—the call for educators to clearly outline content standards of what students should know, to test them to see how well they know it, and to make students and adults accountable for failure—dominates the American education policy landscape, but this was not always the case. For years, the United States was the outlier in the world, resisting standards, assessments, and consequences. Then, in the years following publication of the 1983 report A Nation at Risk , a group of academics, including Marshall S. Smith, Diane Ravitch, and Chester E. Finn Jr., along with governors and business leaders from outside the world of education, sought to have states adopt standards-based reform. While most of the education establishment initially fought the effort, reformers found a surprising ally—indeed,...
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