Bush on No Child Left Behind

Former President George W. Bush is “extremely proud” of No Child Left Behind’s effects he tells Andrew Rotherham on the law’s 10th anniversary.

For the first time, the federal government basically demanded results in return for money. It started by saying, We expect you to measure [student performance]. As a result, there has been a noticeable change in achievement, particularly among minority groups. And I’m proud of that accomplishment and proud of the fact we were able to work with people from both parties to get it done.

The 10th anniversary is “a time to fight off those who would weaken standards or accountability,” Bush adds in the Time interview. People in both parties are trying to weaken accountability, he says. (He seems to be more concerned about small-government Republicans than Democrats.)

Some on the right think there is no role for the federal government [in education]. Some on the left are saying it’s unfair to teachers — basically, union issues. People don’t like to be held to account.

Pouring federal dollars into schools, regardless of results, had to end, writes Rotherham in defense of NCLB.

The increased focus on accountability has produced some benefits. For starters, NCLB has changed educators from arguing about whether to hold schools accountable for performance to arguing about how to do it. That’s no small accomplishment in a field that is notoriously hostile to change and is particularly averse to the concept of consequential accountability. (It’s hard to overstate this; I’ve been in meetings where people have requested that words like “performance” not be used because they consider them offensive terms.) . . .  Elementary and secondary education is a $650 billion annual undertaking, but, until recently, even basic measures of — yes — performance were not routinely taken or analyzed.

The law highlighted achievement gaps and sparked achievement gains or low-income and minority kids, Rotherham writes.

On the flip side, NCLB left most of the major decisions to states and localities, letting “proficiency” be defined down. Many  schools have taken “ineffective or even counterproductive steps in an effort to boost test scores rather than actually teach kids.”

President Bush pumped up federal education spending, but “these dollars were sent through the same pipes and used in much the same way they had been for the previous three decades,” Rotherham concludes.

Ed Week rounds up commentary from the usual suspects.


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  1. Among GW’s many failures, I guess NCLB is the one to be the most proud of….

    • And among his many successes, NCLB is one he can share pride of ownership with such conservative stalwarts as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and quite a lengthy roll-call of politicians who weren’t generally found on the same side of many issues as Bush.

  2. Someone should have advised Bush on this one. I must say, I am struggling for words to express how monumentally ridiculous it is to declare successful something that is clearly the biggest failure in the history of American education.

  3. NCLB turned education into a numbers game, whereby administrators do all they can to increase scores and number of graduates. Last year our principal let thirty students pass algebra because they took a Saturday-before-graduation-day crash course on the subject. As for the slackers who shouldn’t be in school to begin with, small learning communities have been instituted for endless intervention meetings with teachers and teachers with students. More meetings is all we needed.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    The fact remains that there are kids not doing well and some of them, a disproportionate number, are from racial/ethnic, low SES groups. Their results have been hidden by averaging all results, including those of budding NMS kids. If there is a better way to get the educators to pay attention to educating the folks whose results are poor, let’s have it.
    Problem with NCLB is that, when you depend on numbers to tell you when various institutions have been gaming the numbers, you’ll have various institutions figuring out new ways to game the numbers. IOW, you can’t do this from the top down. Too many cagey numbers gamers in the mix.
    NCLB depended on good-faith efforts after a poke in the ribs. Shouldn’t have expected it.
    It will be done at the district level or it won’t be done.