"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, June 07, 2007

NCLB and The Growing Divide

In the June 6, 2007, issue of Education Week, James Crawford, president of the Institute for Language and Education Policy, aruges No Child Left Behind represents a "diminished vision of civil rights" and is actually creating a growing divide in educational equity. The vision of a child's most basic rights to an equal education has been lost and forgotten in an era of accountability and test scores. In fact, in this article, he builds a solid case against NCLB by explaining how the consequences of the legislation are antithetical to the original purpose of ESEA.

It is a powerful article because it provide a historical perspective and goes beyond the usual rhetoric to make a case against NCLB as a inherently unjust and unfair law that violates the basic civil rights of children.

The entire article can be found at Duane Campell's blog Choosing Democracy.

In 2001, key Democrats in Congress, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, encouraged by certain liberal advocacy groups, joined forces with the Bush administration and with Republican leaders in Congress. The result was bipartisan passage of the No Child Left Behind Act late that year.

Eliminating achievement gaps is paramount among the law’s goals; equal educational opportunity is not. In fact, the latter term—which had been prominent in previous versions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act—appears nowhere in NCLB. (No doubt an anonymous congressional staffer performed a search-and-delete operation on the bill, just as one did with the word “bilingual,” which was also expunged.)

What’s the significance of this shift in terminology? Achievement gap is all about measurable “outputs”—standardized-test scores—and not about equalizing resources, addressing poverty, combating segregation, or guaranteeing children an opportunity to learn. The No Child Left Behind Act is silent on such matters. Dropping equal educational opportunity, which highlights the role of inputs, has a subtle but powerful effect on how we think about accountability. It shifts the entire burden of reform from legislators and policymakers to teachers and kids and schools.

By implication, educators are the obstacle to change. Every mandate of No Child Left Behind—and there are hundreds—is designed to force the people who run our schools to shape up, work harder, raise expectations, and stop “making excuses” for low test scores, or face the consequences. Despite the law’s oft-stated reverence for “scientifically based research,” this narrow approach is contradicted by numerous studies documenting the importance of social and economic factors in children’s academic progress. Yet it has the advantage of enabling politicians to ignore the difficult issues and avoid costly remedies. If educators are the obstacle, there’s no need to address what Jonathan Kozol calls the “savage inequalities” of our educational system and our society.

In other words, despite its stated goals, the No Child Left Behind law represents a diminished vision of civil rights. Educational equity is reduced to equalizing test scores. The effect has been to impoverish the educational experience of minority students—that is, to reinforce the two-tier system of public schools that civil rights advocates once challenged.

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