In the No Child Left Behind law built by George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy, schools had to not just offer testing to ensure that the program produced measures on performance, but also required schools to improve in those measures each year. Schools that failed to show improvement would eventually get rated as “failing,” a status that would allow for direct intervention to rescue the students and force a takeover or even a shutdown of the school. After two years of Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan running the show, however, the DoE predicts a massive uptick in the number of failing schools, from 37% last year to 82% this year.
So what is their solution? Lowering the bar, of course:
More than three-quarters of the nation’s public schools could soon be labeled “failing” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday as it increased efforts to revamp the signature education initiative of President George W. Bush.
The projection from Education Secretary Arne Duncan amounted to a declaration that the school-ratings revolution Bush began nearly 10 years ago is itself in jeopardy because the law has become unworkable. President Obama is pushing to loosen accountability rules for most schools but crack down harder on the worst. …
Duncan’s estimate that 82 percent of schools could miss academic targets this year, up from 37 percent last year, was based on an Education Department analysis. …
Obama’s plan calls for schools to be rated on how much academic growth their students achieve. Those that excel would be rewarded, the vast majority in the middle would be given more flexibility to choose strategies to improve, and the lowest performers would face a stricter federal mandate to adopt a stringent school turnaround program.
NCLB has had its share of bad press, and the law itself missed a golden opportunity to provide low- and middle-income parents with a realistic choice in schools through vouchers, a part of the proposal that Kennedy killed. However, the testing has shown that schools simply haven’t improved no matter how much money the federal government pours into education. Education spending has quadrupled in real, inflation-adjusted terms over the last 50 years. And how have our schools performed over the last forty years? Not impressively. Here are the average reading scores for the past 40 years from NEAP:
And here are the math scores from the same period:
Whatever problem people have with NCLB, its measurement of progress doesn’t appear to be the issue. The NCLB contained those required improvements to stop the flatlining of progress in educating American students. The fact that these schools still fail to improve even after boatloads of new spending show that money isn’t the real problem; the existing school system simply isn’t responsive to the needs of parents and children.
Instead of dealing with that honestly, the Obama administration wants to lower the bar to ignore reality. Their philosophy appears to be No School Left Behind. Whatever problems people had with Bush and the NCLB, it at least had its priorities straight.