The seven authors of this volume, all prominent progressive educators and writers, acknowledge the surface appeal of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed into law in 2002. After all, who wouldn’t like an initiative that aims, among other things, to put a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and to ensure that all students—including historically lower-achieving groups such as blacks and Latinos—demonstrate academic proficiency by the 2013-14 school year?
But NCLB, the authors convincingly argue, is fatally flawed. The primary flaw is that a school’s success or failure is determined by its scores on a single standardized test. This situation corrupts the educational process, according to Wood, an Ohio principal. “Frills,” such as art and music, are curtailed as schools go into all-out test-prep mode. And, Wood adds, exam pressure invites chicanery. In Houston, considered the star of the “Texas miracle” for its ability to improve scores, it’s been discovered that some schools kept their weaker students from taking the test at all.
Other ironies abound. Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond asserts that “many states formally lowered their standards...to avoid having most of their schools declared failing.” And in Minnesota, a state with some of the nation’s highest-achieving students, as many as80 percent of the schools are likely to be found “in need of improvement"—a result of their inability to meet targets for “adequate yearly progress.”
The larger point many of these authors are making is that in light of such inherent problems at the heart of NCLB, schools and states are finding ways to circumvent what they see as an unfair and punitive law.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2004 edition of Teacher as Many Children Left Behind