Education Letter to the Editor

On NCLB Progress and the Need for National Standards

July 17, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

It is true, to quote the title of a June 6, 2007, article, that “State Tests Show Gains Since NCLB,” but the real question is whether the No Child Left Behind Act has made a difference.

The Center on Education Policy, which released the report explaining those positive findings, was able to compare elementary reading gains in 12 states for the two years before and after the law was implemented. Before NCLB, the yearly rate of improvement in these 12 states was 1.93 percent. Afterwards, it was 2.25 percent. That’s a difference of less than one-third of one percent—not much, especially when we consider that Reading First, the law’s reading component, provides an extra 100 minutes per week of reading instruction, an extra semester every two years.

Your article notes that the results of this study are almost sure to influence the discussion of the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act. They should. The results should be interpreted as evidence that all the time and money devoted to NCLB wasn’t worth it.

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus

University of Southern California

Rossier School of Education

Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

Following the release of a report by the Center on Education Policy, an independent Washington group that monitors the federal No Child Left Behind Act, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings glowingly commented, “This study confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation’s schools and students.”

The report found that student achievement has generally increased and test-score gaps between white and minority students have narrowed in most states since NCLB became law in 2002.

Referring to a subsequent U.S. Department of Education report, however, Secretary Spellings was not nearly so sanguine (“State Tests, NAEP Often a Mismatch,” June 13, 2007). She said that the report from the National Center for Education Statistics “offers sobering news that serious work remains to ensure that our schools are teaching students to the highest possible standards.”

The CEP study revealed that states certainly can look good on their own tests, but the Education Department report highlighted that the state “show and tells” may be nothing more than a mirage. The latter report noted that proportions of students achieving proficiency varied greatly among states and were largely attributable “to differences in the stringency of [state] standards.”

Secretary Spellings has specifically opposed the call for national standards, suggesting that states need flexibility to meet their own differing academic challenges. The problem in allowing flexibility is that NCLB rewards states that set their standards as low as possible. States such as California, with rigid standards, are threatened with federal sanctions for not meeting their lofty goals.

The No Child Left Behind law was a well-intentioned, bipartisan effort to right our largely dysfunctional public education system. As Congress debates this year whether to re-fund the program, lawmakers should either demand a single set of national standards applicable to all the states or scrap the program altogether.

Patrick Mattimore

San Francisco, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as On NCLB Progress and the Need for National Standards