Test-and-punish system is ineffective
Published in USA Today, April 2, 2010
Monty Neill, Interim executive director, National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) - Boston
Despite fresh evidence of No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) failure, USA TODAY and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want to keep its test-and-punish paradigm. Duncan at least acknowledges that the law is not working, but both responses call to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" ("Changes to 'No Child' ease up on middle-class schools," Our view; "We're flexible but tough," Opposing view; Education standards debate, Tuesday).
Last week's National Assessment of Educational Progress report should have been the final nail in the coffin for this approach. It showed student achievement has stagnated. U.S. students made faster academic progress in the decade before NCLB became law. Achievement gaps are not narrowing significantly between white, African-American and Latino students.
USA TODAY recommends we stay the course. And Duncan, though recognizing NCLB isn't working, wants more emphasis on standardized exams. Then he wants to rate teachers based on their students' scores. This will turn more classrooms into test-prep centers.
It's promising that Duncan wants to abandon the illusion that all children will become "proficient" by 2014. Targeting federal attention on low-performing schools and replacing one-size-fits-all mandates are also good ideas. Unfortunately, the plan relies on NCLB's discredited notion that raising the testing "bar" and yelling "jump higher" will magically yield better performance.
To improve education, Congress should replace NCLB with a program to help struggling schools develop the capacity to meet children's needs. The Forum on Educational Accountability, which includes leading civil rights, education, religious, disability, parent and civic groups, has drafted such a plan. Sadly, by leaving so much of NCLB intact, Duncan would consign our children to more of the same damaging insanity.