May 16, 2005
Recruiters Over Teachers and Students
How Many Schools Left Behind?
By JESSIE MULDOON
THE NO Child Left Behind Act is the Bush
administration's deeply flawed legislation that claims
to be the solution to the many problems of public
education. Signed into law in January 2002, it won
bipartisan support--most notably, from liberal
Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
NCLB promised to close the achievement gap between
middle-class suburban students and those at
under-funded inner-city or rural schools. Bush and
others spoke of accountability and equity, but the
critics of NCLB saw through the rhetoric for what the
law really is--an attempt to privatize education and
transfer the responsibility and cost of educating our
children from the federal government to individual and
often impoverished school districts.
NCLB is built around the use of standardized
tests--with the promise that gaps in testing will be
gone by 2014. Progress toward this goal is to be
measured by Average Yearly Progress (AYP) scores, with
sanctions imposed on schools that don't make the
The law promises parents that their children will be
taught by "highly qualified" teachers and allows them
to request a transfer to a different school. The law
opens the door to vouchers and charter schools,
threatens to privatize services currently provided by
unionized public school employees and welcomes
faith-based groups into school programs. But the real
centerpiece of NCLB is standardized testing.
* * *
THE NATIONAL Education Association (NEA)--the
country's largest teachers union--has filed a lawsuit
against NCLB, charging that due to under-funding, the
law forces states and school districts to comply with
impossible demands. School districts are required to
implement curriculum, structure and restructure
programs, and hire or lay off employees.
Since 2002, shortfalls in federal funding for NCLB are
estimated at $27 billion. Ultimately, state
governments have made up the difference, putting a
further strain on their budgets. This burden has
caused a quiet rebellion against the law. The state
governments of Michigan, Texas and Vermont are
protesting the law and participating in the lawsuit.
However, teachers have a joke about this question:
"Republicans won't fund No Child Left Behind, and
Democrats say they will. We don't know which is
worse." The point underlying the joke is that there's
no reason to believe that NCLB, even fully funded,
would really improve the educational system.
For one thing, NCLB's overemphasis on testing forces
teachers to "teach to the test"--by focusing mainly on
areas covered in the standardized tests. Currently,
math and reading are the most-tested areas--so social
studies and science, and even more so, art and music,
are shoved to the side.
Most education experts believe that an educational
program has to be balanced. Cutting the arts or
history to make way for test prep will likely improve
a student's test scores--as will eliminating libraries
so that a school can buy required test prep materials
or replacing a literature class with a
one-size-fits-all scripted reading curriculum. But
this does little for students beyond helping them
"bubble in" answer sheets.
What does testing really tell us? Crudely, it shows
little more than how well a student takes a test and
how well a teacher prepared their class for the test.
In fact, testing is big business. Testing
companies--especially the ones that also publish
textbooks--make huge profits from the tests and
supplementary materials that schools are often forced
to purchase. According to the article "Testing
Companies Mine for Gold" from Rethinking Schools, the
two largest testing companies, Harcourt and
McGraw-Hill, are billion-dollar giants.
In the same article points out another profitable
element of the testing industry: scoring. The General
Accounting Office report on NCLB estimates that it
costs approximately $7 to score a test with open-ended
questions, compared to $1 each for scoring tests with
all multiple-choice questions. It is no surprise,
then, that under-funded school districts opt for the
cheaper, but less meaningful, multiple-choice tests.