Federal Opinion

There Won’t Be Blood

By Eduwonkette — February 08, 2008 2 min read

A wise woman once advised that name-calling is a poor substitute for a good argument. In my view, it is the feeble tool of last resort for desperate men who cannot win arguments on their own merits. It has no rightful place in policy debates.

Let me wrap up this debate over NCLB’s unintended consequences by recapping my central argument:

1) By mandating an escalating series of sanctions for schools that fail to demonstrate adequate yearly progress in reading and mathematics, NCLB has created incentives for schools to focus on reading and math, rather than other subjects. As our fearless leader once noted, “What gets measured, gets done.”

2) NCLB does not mandate that educators focus on reading and math to the detriment of other subjects. But NCLB is a policy predicated on the idea that incentives can fundamentally change behavior. We should *expect* teachers to respond to NCLB’s powerful incentives.

3) It therefore is not surprising that there is a growing body of evidence, both systematic and anecdotal, that many schools are devoting more instructional time to reading and math and less time on other school subjects, such as social studies, science, and the arts. This is particularly evident in schools most at risk of missing AYP.

4) If our national goals for public schools are to prepare young people to be competent, well-rounded and productive adults, we must assess how effective public policies such as NCLB are in achieving these goals.

There are a variety of revisions to NCLB that might be considered to enhance its ability to meet a broad set of goals for public education. Robert Pondiscio put it nicely when he wrote, “If the cure is worse than the disease, then find a better cure.” We could, for example, create incentives for teaching additional subjects. Or we could seek to build the capacity of schools to teach subjects such as social studies and science more effectively
alongside reading and math. But NCLB does neither of these.

Where do we go from here? We can continue to stand on the mountain and hand down outraged edicts to educators. But sternly lecturing our nation’s teachers will do little to change their behavior. If our goal is to ensure that children in all schools have access to a broad and deep education, we fail them by adopting this approach.

Bottom line: it’s reckless public policy to ignore the evidence that NCLB’s incentives have resulted in more attention to reading and math, and less attention to other school subjects.

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