Caffeinating NCLB

If we’re to believe the chattering class, the greatest problem in public education today is No Child Left Behind.  It’s destroyed our schools, bankrupted our districts, frustrated our teachers, and destroyed the morale of our students.  Those standards and high stakes testing, in particular, have been the death of us.

You hear it so much that you almost believe it.  Then you get that slap upside the head, much like an overcaffeinated espresso, that reminds of you the truth.  This week, that slap has come from Seattle, hardly the home of the George W. fan club.  It seems the Seattle Times has thrown its editorial muscle behind NCLB (kudos to Ed Trust’s Equity Express for highlighting it.)

In a strongly worded editorial this week, the Seattle Times praises NCLB for “injecting rigor and accountability into a system that previously had little of both.”  The editors also note that recent improvements to the law — including demonstrations of flexibility on AYP — will take years for us to see, and we need to be patient.  The full article is here — http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2004444420_nclbed29.html.

It’s unusual to see such pieces these days, when NCLB has been left as a punchline to a national education joke.  But as the Seattle Times and many others have noted, there is value to the law.  Forget, for a moment, that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act isn’t going away.  There are real positives in this law, and states, municipalities, and schools are seeing that.  

The Times is absolutely correct.  We are a better nation because of NCLB.  A national commitment to academic rigor is a good thing.  A national commitment to student achievement is a good thing.  A national commitment to doing what works in getting kids to learn is a good thing.  And a national belief that EVERY kid can succeed, given the right opportunities and circumstances, is indeed a good thing.

These were the sorts of messages we needed to hear three years ago, when we actually had the chance to reauthorize NCLB.  As Spellings and ED now play out the clock, there are few sane policywonks that believe reauthorization will happen this year.  Most don’t even believe it will happen in 2009. 

That could be a very different story is editorials like those appearing in Seattle had been printed years ago, and with in greater numbers.  ANd the responsibility, or the failed responsibility, for that falls squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. Department of Education.  The want us to drink the kool-aid, but they failed to market it to us as the end-all, be-all thirst quencher for our educational woes.  They failed to build demand for NCLB, and instead tried to force it upon us, no questions asked.  Thus, we are in the situation we’re in today.

The age-old story of opportunities lost and chances squandered.  Hopefully, we will always have the intent of NCLB propelling our ed reform sails … even if it goes by a different name and has different champions.  Rigor, accountability, achievement, success should have no party affiliation and should always remain in vogue.   

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