A major goal of Washington’s Race to the Top initiative, which is essentially a repackaging of the No Child Left Behind Act, is to narrow the achievement gap. It extends a decade-old law that remains “in need of improvement” because it is failing. The stated aim of NCLB/RTT is to raise educational quality and equity. Yet, when looking past the guise of “standards and accountability,” the results aren’t there. Actually, it appears instead that we are “racing” in the wrong direction, as we continue to leave children behind more than ever before.
When the New York Times columnist Michael Winerip spoke at a forum a few years ago, he proposed that what we really need is a No Family Left Behind law. This would measure economic growth and hold politicians accountable for not ensuring economic prosperity for all families. According to “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics,” the Pew Research Center’s report from July 2011, the median wealth of white households was 20 times higher than that of African-American households, and 18 times higher than that of Hispanic households in 2009. Under NFLB, states would be expected to close the “affluence” gap. If counties and states failed to make adequate yearly progress in ensuring economic growth for all families, those elected officials would be judged failing and removed from office. This would hold them to the same standard as our public school educators.
Despite what may be the current conventional wisdom, there’s more to reality, and also our children’s education, than that which can be measured or quantified. Perhaps it’s time to heed Milton Chen’s advice and learn from the success of education models in countries that have come to understand that “if you want elephants to grow, you don’t weigh the elephants. You feed the elephants.”
Lehman Alternative Community School
Ithaca City School District
A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Children Are Being Left Behind