Education Letter to the Editor

Is Compliance With NCLB a Misdirection of Effort?

June 15, 2008 2 min read
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To the Editor:

In reading your May 21, 2008, issue, I noticed that three pieces share a common thread. All illustrate the culture of compliance that cripples education, and why resistance is necessary.

The Commentary “Collaborative Teaching: The Best Response to a Rigid Curriculum” tells a heartwarming story of instructional teamwork from the perspective of three teachers. They write that the federal No Child Left Behind Act initially struck them as “likely to suck every shred of imagination out of our instruction,” but that their commitment to interdisciplinary units kept them from imposing a curriculum taught in “a lock-step sequence” at the cost of “our students’ interest.” Because of their extraordinary efforts, their students were not damaged by the NCLB law.

A similar logic informs another Commentary, “Fixing the Flaw in the ‘Growth Model.’” Its authors report that researchers in their state, Delaware, found that using adaptive assessments in state testing provides a more accurate measure of whether students are on track to reach proficiency, thereby creating a more valid accountability system. So, if the hypothesis that a national accountability regime is a viable method of improving schools proves realistic, we could seek similar refinements to build effectiveness. But what if accountability is not a silver bullet? Weighing a hog with the broken scales of NCLB does not make it heavier. Why assume that using gold-plated scales would create a different result?

This logic was replicated in the front-page story “Online Options for ‘Credit Recovery’ Widen,” which describes online programs that enable struggling students to earn enough credits to graduate. There is little doubt that these technologies will prove attractive, but I doubt they will be “disruptive,” as the Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen projects. If districts are embarrassed by a low graduation rate or frustrated by truancy, a fraying learning culture, or the failure of test prep, credit recovery is the perfect fig leaf for awarding large numbers of high school diplomas—whether their recipients can read them or not.

As these three pieces show, teachers are desperate to protect their students. Educators are actively seeking to minimize the damage imposed on our schools by outsiders’ policies. It is time to stop trying to bring ourselves into compliance with the burning house of No Child Left Behind. What if educators instead directed their resourcefulness and resources toward fighting the accountability hawks by whatever (nonviolent) means necessary?

John Thompson

Oklahoma City, Okla.

A version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2008 edition of Education Week as Is Compliance With NCLB A Misdirection of Effort?


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