In defense of NCLB

Save NCLB! cries Peter Meyer, a school board member and education writer, in Education Next. For all its faults, the law has started “a much-needed change in the culture of public education” from focusing on adults to looking at how kids are doing.

In Meyer’s small district — 30 percent African-American enrollment, 55 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, 59 percent graduation rate — the first three or four years after the law passed “were spent with teachers (99 percent white), backed by their distant but powerful union leaders, kicking and screaming about how bad and nasty NCLB was.

During the next three to four years, thanks to the continued NCLB bite, teachers actually spent time looking at the law (which they began to notice nowhere told anyone to “teach to the test”) and began to think that maybe they should (COULD! There is in NCLB the much needed faith that schools and teachers CAN make a difference) be doing something to improve the kids’ academic performance. Having been labeled a “district in need of improvement,” they felt some shame and rose to the occasion; they began analyzing the curriculum (actually, they began to realize they really didn’t have one, a revelation that came only because of NCLB pressure) and their teaching methods. . . . The state education department . . .  issued a “core curriculum” to offer some guidance.

A consensus began to emerge “that academics counted.” Teachers, administrators and parents began to see progress on improving academic performance.

Now, with calls to weaken or abandon NCLB, the consensus has shattered, Meyer writes.

I see teachers back to cheering from the windows as the reform generals scurry away, white flags in hand.

Policy makers should “visit the places where the culture of failure and low expectations spans generations,” Meyer writes. “It is far too early to declare NCLB a failure, much less abandon the many parents and students who have already benefited immensely from it.”

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