Many critics of the No Child Left Behind Act have written to members of Congress to express their dissatisfaction with the law in recent months, but the author and education activist Jonathan Kozol has gone a step further.
Mr. Kozol has been on a partial hunger strike since July, subsisting on a mainly liquid diet, supplemented by some small, solid meals, such as cereal with skim milk. His protest has been derided in some quarters, but Mr. Kozol’s efforts seem sincere. As of mid-September, he had lost about 29 pounds.
He said in an interview last week that he began the hunger strike when he “got the sense the Democratic leadership [in Congress] is going to basically renew No Child Left Behind without the sweeping revisions that it would take to make this a helpful law instead of a grossly punitive law.”
Mr. Kozol, 71, who explored the stark differences between underfunded urban schools and wealthy suburban schools in his 1991 book Savage Inequalities, said he’ll begin eating regularly again once Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, agrees to champion some substantial changes that Mr. Kozol has outlined for the nearly 6-year-old law.
Mr. Kozol would like Congress to reshape the system for gauging whether a school makes adequate yearly progress under the law so that it relies less on standardized tests. He’d like Congress to mandate other measures, such as portfolios of student work, to determine whether students are achieving.
“High-stakes tests are useless to the teacher and the child,” he said. “They give you no specifics on the child’s areas of weakness. They simply place a label of success or failure on the child’s forehead.”
Mr. Kozol also would like states to provide the resources so students in struggling urban schools can transfer to better-performing suburban ones.
Mr. Kozol has already spoken to a top aide of Sen. Kennedy’s, and said he plans to meet with the education committee chairman in the coming weeks.
Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Sen. Kennedy, confirmed that Mr. Kozol plans to meet with the Senate committee’s chairman soon.