Because education is largely a government function, there seems to be little
hope of ever disentangling politics and education.
Today I’ll wear black to
school. I’ve worn black to school almost every Wednesday since November 3, 2004.
Why that date? On November 2nd of that year I spent 13 hours helping people cast
their ballots for President in a polling place in Virginia. I went home, had a
short but sound night of sleep, and woke the next morning to discover that
George W. Bush was still President. I wore black to work that day, and I’ve worn
black almost every Wednesday since – 168 out of the last 171 Wednesdays. The
exceptions? The day after Democrat Tim Kaine won the governor’s race in Virginia
I wore more festive colors to work. (Since I work in West Virginia, half my
co-workers never fully understood why.) I also dressed quite colorfully on the
Wednesday after the most recent midterm election – the one where Democrats won
There was also a day earlier this year when we had Monday off and I just lost
track of what day of the week it was. My co-workers thought that was
I know that President Bush has his fan club. And I know that there are plenty
of people who dislike him for reasons other than education policy. But in my
mind, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the low points of Bush
I have several specific complaints about NCLB.
- I don’t like the way it has reduced the scope of curriculum. I think it has
de-emphasized the arts, for example, in favor of the most basic, pared down
- I don’t like the focus it brings on mediocrity. The goal of education under
NCLB is to move students who are barely failing on high stakes tests to the
place where they are barely passing on high stakes tests. There is no reward for
excellence. getting by is the goal.
- I don’t like the unrealistic and punitive nature of the accountability
provisions. The eventual goal of NCLB is 100% grade level mastery. Every fifth
grader, for example, should function at the fifth grade level (unless they have
some profound disability). Schools that don’t comply, don’t meet this standard,
are punished. The problem is that so many of the factors related to a student’s
performance fall outside the school’s reach. Basic issues of poverty and social
fabric impact a school’s ability to achieve these goals; but the school has
little power to address them. The simple truth is that there will always be at
least one or two kids who don’t make the grade no matter what teachers do. And
eventually NCLB’s accountability provisions will result in almost every public
school being deemed a failure. It is a standard no other modern nation strives
to achieve. It is unrealistic.
- I think the law is underfunded. The requirements of NCLB at onerous in terms
of both time and money.
You don’t have to be a complete cynic to think that maybe, just maybe, NCLB’s
accountability provisions are a poison pill in the law. The intention could be
to make public schools look bad – worse than they are – to justify the
privatization of education through the use of vouchers. And right there in
Bush’s 2009 budget, what do we have? Proposed funding for a voucher program.
NCLB has failed. The task now is to replace it with a law with broader
vision, a law more supportive of public education. Hopefully Congress will be
wise enough to call for far more input from the educational community than they
did in 2002.
Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger