Perfect Rhetoric

March 14, 2007 1 min read

Perfection is an ideal, not a real-world goal. The politicians working on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may realize this, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to lower the law’s requirement that 100 percent of children reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

The reason: rhetoric.

“There is a zero percent chance that we will ever reach a 100 percent target,” said Robert Linn, codirector of UCLA’s National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. “But because the title of the law is so rhetorically brilliant, politicians are afraid to change this completely unrealistic standard. They don’t want to be accused of leaving some children behind.”

Says Jack Dale, superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, Virginia: “How can you publicly state it’s okay to have some children not meet standards? Politically, you’re committing suicide if you say it.”

Then again, some of the law’s proponents say Americans don’t want to lower the bar. “Are we going to rewrite the Declaration of Independence and say only 85 percent of men are created equal?” asked Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. secretary of education. “Most of our politics in America is about the disappointment of not meeting the high goals we set for ourselves.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.