Education

“Boston Legal” Produces Diatribe Against NCLB

December 13, 2007 2 min read
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First “Family Guy,” then “Boston Legal” takes a shot at NCLB.

A tipster reports from his iPhone that Tuesday’s episode entitled “No Brains Left Behind” portrayed NCLB in a negative light. In it, a girl is expelled for shredding tests and is charged under state law for tampering with the exams. In the courtroom, she goes into a diatribe against NCLB and testing. (Note: I haven’t seen the episode. “Boston Legal” isn’t one of the shows available on ABC’s Web site. All I found was this plot summary, which alludes to the girls expulsion but doesn’t mention NCLB.)

It’s not the first time “Boston Legal” has lashed out against the law. In a January 2006 show, Michael J. Fox’s character says: “We treat our teachers like crap…. And the government in their ‘No Child Left Behind’ law has created a monster.” That’s according to a timeline about NCLB events posted by the Arizona Education Association.

Back in 2003, my former colleague Michelle Galley interviewed a communications expert about how the Bush administration was branding the phrase “No Child Left Behind.”

“What’s brilliant is that no one can argue with” not wanting to leave a child behind, said Jessica Schwartz Hahn, then the executive vice president of Widmeyer Communications.

Today, though, the meaning of the phrase has turned into something else. Judging from the portrayal on prime time this week, Americans think of testing and unfair expulsion when they hear the phrase “No Child Left Behind.”

I ask: Does that make it, as Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said “the most tainted brand in America?”

My tipster asks: Will the Hollywood writers strike be good for NCLB?

UPDATE: Eduflack also writes up the “Boston Legal” episode. He describes the girl in the NCLB plot line as “a high-achieving high school student stealing her school’s standardized tests to spotlight the inadequacies of high-stakes testing.” He also offers a correction: The girl was not charged with a crime; she went to court to overturn her expulsion.

As for NCLB’s status as a brand, here’s what Eduflack says: “The only positive out of all this, I suppose, is that NCLB is known well enough as a brand that it can stand as a story line on a top prime-time television program, without needing explanation or set-up. As silly as blaming NCLB for our high school woes may be, those TV producers assume that their viewers know NCLB, know the issues around AYP and high-stakes testing, and will buy into the concerns over teaching to the test and preparing students for the challenges of the future. Maybe the NCLB brand name is better recognized than Eduflack has assumed”

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

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