An Unlikely Pair Finds Common Ground on NCLB

May 09, 2008 1 min read

You wouldn’t expect Charles Murray and Richard Rothstein to agree on anything.

Murray, a co-author of The Bell Curve, is a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute—the Bush administration’s think tank of choice for foreign policy. Rothstein, a tilting-at-windmills researcher who has tried to debunk many assumptions behind current school reforms, is a liberal that works for the Economic Policy Institute—the labor movement’s think tank of choice.

But Murray, on your left, and Rothstein, on your right, agree on one thing: NCLB is bad policy.

NCLB is a “a monumental mess,” Murray writes in a new essay for The New Criterion. NCLB is a “failed” law, Rothstein wrote in The American Prospect in December.

Murray on NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency: “The notion of making all children proficient in math and reading is ridiculous.” Rothstein wrote a 2007 paper entitled “‘Proficiency for All'—An Oxymoron.”

Murray in The New Criterion: NCLB, like all policies spawning from what he calls education romanticism, “asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top. It short-changes all of them.”

Rothstein in the 2007 paper: “The conceptual basis of NCLB is deeply flawed; no goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution.”

Murray and Rothstein wouldn’t agree on how to fix federal policy. But they—and others across the political spectrum—believe its time to start over.

Hat tip: I discovered Murray’s essay through Checker Finn’s critique of it in this week’s Gadfly.

UPDATE: Eduwonk says this debate over determinism is “the next hot thing!”

Jay Greene e-mailed me to say he fact-checked Murray and Rothstein in the Fall 2007 issue of Education Next. “The net effect of their arguments is to provide aid and comfort to those who would resign themselves to the educational status quo and explain away the school system’s shortcomings,” he wrote in a story headlined “The Odd Couple.” Who is Oscar and who is Felix?

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.