The stay behinds

No Child Left Behind has failed to close the racial achievement gaps, writes the Harvard Civil Rights Project in a new report.

It’s the culture, stupid, responds LaShawn Barber.

While there are no quick and clear-cut solutions to this cultural problem, it’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be, either. First, family stability does affect children and is correlated with life outcomes. Seventy percent of black children are born to unmarried mothers and tend to be raised in female-headed households. Such families, by definition, are unstable. . . .

This leads to my second point. There is a poisonous strain of “anti-intellectualism” coursing through the subculture generally speaking.

. . . For example, instead of facing enormous problems in the “black community,” including the epidemic of fatherlessness, the NAACP is “studying” tripe like the paucity of black characters on sitcoms! Does this sound like a people concerned at all about educational excellence and intellectual competitiveness?

Barber believes there’s lots of opportunity for people willing to seize it.

What is unique about the “African American” experience is that we live in a country that has bent over backwards to make amends for past injustices. That some people are “left behind” is not evidence of racism. I believe that in 2006, it is imperative that blacks understand this and embrace the idea of self-help, self-improvement, and accountability for our lot in life as individuals.

I don’t think No Child Left Behind calls for equal results: It says that all children can achieve proficiency — and the definition of proficiency isn’t all that high in most states. Some students who work very hard will go far beyond proficiency; only a few are intellectually incapable of learning to read, write and calculate at the (not very high) proficient level. The law has forced schools to focus on students who’ve been ignored and written off before, in some cases shifting resources from average and above-average students. I think the worst thing we could do is to give up on educating these kids. Yes, we need to find ways to motivate them to work much harder. We need to find ways to persuade parents to work harder to prepare students to succeed in school and support them as learners. We need to create school cultures that value responsibility, perseverance and learning. We shoul d not give up.

About Joanne


  1. Wayne Martin says:

    And why not re-examine the “everyone’s got to go to college” thesis. Returning to educational “tracts” would allow those with fewer intellectual “gifts” to gain an education that will prepare them for meaningful employment.

  2. being ready for college isn’t solely for those with intellectual gifts — nor is it in anyone’s interest to prepare a permanent underclass.

    Granted, not everyone will choose to go to college. But to close out that future in middle school is deadly.

  3. silvermine says:

    I’m one of those who don’t college is for everyone — what do you really learn in college anyway? How to be in academia. Honestly, most people would be better off apprenticing. I include things like programmers there, too. I went to college to be a scientist — it takes a ton of specialized knowledge of a gazillion things. Most jobs really don’t!

    Anyway, even if you are going to college, for any reason — whether it’s for a specific job, athletics, or just to try out different things… I think everyone should have a skill at something useful they could get a job doing. Lots of college students could be in way less debt if they could hold a decent job at the same time. Or have something to fall back on. I think it’s good if people have useful skills…

  4. hardlyb says:

    As long as we’re slightly off topic, I’ll ask a question. Does the fact that NCLB doesn’t use the results for individual kids bother anyone else? That is, “performance” is just the average from year to year of kids in the 4th grade (for instance), instead of the average improvement between 3rd grade and 4th grade for individual kids.

    My objection to this aspect of the law is somewhat personal, since my profoundly gifted kids are not interesting to this testing process (they could stop learning anything and the tests would never notice), but it does have the effect that all of the districts that I know about (and others that I’ve read about) have killed gifted programs and generally play games with test results to hide the fact that are doing a lousy job. Since what the consumers want is for their kids to make progress every year, it makes more sense to test for what we want rather than for a result that is related, but not at all the same.

  5. Prof210 says:


    A number of states have received DOE approval to begin tracking individual students for NCLB reporting. I’d prefer that states track both individuals and cohorts so that kids new to a school or district aren’t ignored.

  6. Indigo Warrior says:

    There needs to be more vocational studies and apprenticing, by all means. And get rid of the godawful clockwork paradigm – you VILL learn zis by age 6, ya VILL lern zat by age 7.4032, etc. Many of the “left-behind” people are simply late bloomers who would do better learning to read and write at 12, or 18, not 6, when they have a little maturity.

    I venture to say that kids who don’t make a significant effort to learn the basics on their own at an early age, be allowed to do so at a later age when they’re actually ready.

  7. Wayne Martin says:

    > I’d prefer that states track both
    > individuals and cohorts so that kids
    > new to a school or district aren’t
    > ignored.

    Yes, definitely. It’s also not to do anything that disrupts the ability to compare older data with newer data (any more than is necessary).

  8. edgeworthy says:

    I sometimes wonder if there’s a political limit to how much meritocracy can work if there are obvious disparities between groups that can’t be ironed out in a few generations. [I’m thinking India and Malaysia in particular.]

    I understand a Malaysian minister told an American adviser in the 1970s “If we followed your advice, we might get 7% growth, but then the Chinese [living in Malaysia] would grow 10% and we’d have riots in the streets.” Malaysia still has affirmative action policies designed to hinder the ethnic Chinese minority and it does little good but buy political breathing room. The US has obviously chosen to move in that direction.

  9. Wayne Martin says:


    Is this what you are talking about?