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Brownstein's wrong on No Child law

July 15, 2007

Re "Don't leave this law behind," Opinion, July 11

Like most defenders of No Child Left Behind, including the "neutral" organizations he cites in support of his position, Ronald Brownstein's understanding of the issues is superficial. Thoughtful educators don't oppose No Child Left Behind because they resist change or don't want to be held accountable. They oppose it because it allows standardized tests to drive the institution, tests based on educational "standards" keyed to a curriculum designed in 1892.

That curriculum was poor in 1892, and each year since becomes more dysfunctional. Locking it more rigidly in place with the reactionary No Child Left Behind is a recipe for educational and societal disaster.


Cocoa, Fla.


No Child Left Behind is legalese for the plain truth that teachers are not artists enlightening the future but have acted as slobs for decades. This federal mandate forces school districts and teachers to give the taxpayers their money's worth by holding them to higher -- not silly or impossible -- standards.




Brownstein states that No Child Left Behind "ensures that schools focus on educating all their students." No, schools focus on testing all students. For months, students take practice tests, are taught to the test and abandon other subject matter. How do you expect English learners and children with severe learning problems to read and understand the directions? Other students don't even try -- they just fill in the bubbles and seem to do just as well. Despite all the attention, most inner-city students score far below basic levels. Teachers are "whining" for a reason. They could be educating using a meaningful, balanced curriculum, not teaching how to take a test.


Los Angeles


Brownstein's glowing judgment of this law stems from a single interview with a Washington-based proponent. Then he cites a recent study by a Washington think tank finding that state test scores have crept up in recent years. But he fails to mention that the alleged gains have yet to be detected by the more careful and demanding federal assessment of student progress. A few more students may be clearing proficiency hurdles that are set about two inches above the ground: Texas claims that 79% of its fourth-graders are proficient readers; the federal assessment says it's 29%. Sacramento alleges that the share of proficient readers has climbed 12 points since 2002, but the feds can't discern any progress. Now Brownstein makes his case on state results that don't hold much water, ignoring other empirical findings.

Hopefully, Congress can craft an effective, equity-minded role to improve our schools. But columnists should go beyond reiterating the virtuous intentions of public policy.


Professor, Education

and Public Policy

UC Berkeley

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