Leaving No Child Behind, Rhetorically Speaking

Today’s WaPo raises an age-old question (age old, at least, if you are now in kindergarten), can we truly leave no child behind? The premise, long promoted by critics of NCLB, is that it is impossible for every child to succeed, so why set that as our goal?

One its face, such a statement is insulting to the millions of students who have demonstrated improvement under NCLB. Under the hood, it demonstrates the dangers of literal communications run amok.

As a nation, our goal should be no child left behind. In Reading First, for example, do we really want the Federal government to call for the adoption of research-based instruction that will help three in four kids learn to read? Of course not. Policy goals should be simple. We teach every child to read. Every teacher who leads a classroom should be qualified. Every school should demonstrate its students are learning. Laws and policies are intended to affect ALL people, a scientifically proscribed subset.

Rhetorically, NCLB works. It is a simple statement that all audiences — teachers and parents, superintendents and community leaders, policymakers and the business community — understand. Every school, every classroom, every child should have access to what works and should have the chance of succeeding. It’s not only a noble goal, it should be a requirement of any law proposed by Congress.

Foes of NCLB have continuously headed down a dangerous path. By questioning the overarching goal of the law, they are demonstrating their lack of faith in our communities. Disaggregate the law enough, and soon you have policy that is meant to impact a subset of white students, between the ages of nine and 11 whose parents earn at least $123,000 a year. Our public schools are meant to serve all students. NCLB’s goals reflect that.

So how do we successfully talk about NCLB? We talk in the positive. We talk inclusively. We talk about our dreams and exectations for future success.
* Every child should have access to a high-quality, proven effective education.
* When implemented with fidelity, research-proven instruction can help every child achieve in the classroom.
* Success in our school requires the support of all those involved, from teachers and parents to elected officials and the business community.
* All children are entitled to opportunity and a chance to succeed. NCLB is the path to that opportunity.
* Change takes time. Through a long-term commitment to NCLB, we will see a lasting improvement in all of our schools.

Let the critics attack NCLB for only improving the academic achievement of 95% of students. Let them defend decades of flat test scores and diminished standing in international education performance. NCLB, now and in its expected reauthorized version, is about providing hope, opportunity, and equity of learning to all students. That is a platform that any policymaker or educator should be proud to stand for.

(Originally posted March 17, 2007)

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