Federal Opinion

No Child Left Behind Not the Silent Killer, But...

By Eduwonkette — January 18, 2008 2 min read
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Let me pile on to the eduwonk-Barone-Pondiscio debate. I’m no fan of the “NCLB: The Silent Killer” melodrama that blames the No Child Left Behind Act for all of our schools’ problems, and there’s obviously plenty of it to go around. This is what Charlie Barone and eduwonk reacted to yesterday when they pointed to a NYT article about college prep to argue that NCLB is not forcing schools to become drill and kill test-prep factories. (See eduwonk’s post here.) Robert Pondiscio responded at Core Knowledge by providing an insider’s view of currriculum narrowing and test prep. He concluded, “Dismiss it at your own peril.”

I’m with Robert on this one. In my view, NCLB is creating very real problems by leading some schools to focus primarily on reading and math and to zero in on a small set of tested skills in these subjects at the expense of the full range of skills we want kids to have. I also think this response is too pervasive to ignore. While we can argue whether it “works” or not, it’s happening.

The much blogged about Center on Education Policy Report (available here) released last summer found that 44% of districts had reduced time spent on social studies, science, arts and music, lunch and recess to fit in more time for reading and math. Comparing districts that had at least one school not making AYP with those who had none reveals starker contrasts: 51% of districts with at least one identified school decreased time in social studies, while 31% in districts with no identified schools did. (See Table 4 in the CEP report for more.) You can look at the numbers above in a glass half full way - it’s not all schools, after all. To me, it’s enough schools to cause concern. (It’s also worth noting that district-based surveys probably understate how much narrowing there is in schools struggling with AYP.)

eduwonk and Barone are arguing that not all schools have responded to NCLB’s incentives this way, so the problem isn’t with NCLB. The underlying assumption is that good educators can resist these pressures. But eduwonk and Barone both support NCLB, I think, because they believe schools need incentives to improve. If you believe that incentives can have strong impacts on behavior, it doesn’t make sense to argue that schools can (and should) just turn their backs on these incentives. Schools get no credit for teaching science and social studies, and schools that cut back on untested subjects and do lots of test prep are playing by NCLB’s implicit rules.

There are a number of ways to address this issue that would seem acceptable to NCLB proponents - i.e. by “right sizing” the school day, as Paul Reville suggested, or testing all subjects, as the Center on Education Policy advised - but supporters of NCLB would do well to acknowledge and address the problem.

(Image credit: nataliedee.com)

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