Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No Child Left Behind : The Hype vs. Reality

Listen to Joel Packer, NEA Expert on No Child Left Behind, and His Podcast on the Facts Behind NCLB.

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It’s time for Congress to reject the hype and outright falsehoods too often marking the final months of Bush policy.

Send your questions about NCLB to


The transcript follows:

Joel Packer Has All the Answers Podcast -- May 13, 2008

Hi. I’m Joel Packer. Welcome to the podcast.

Get ready for some numbers. I promise you’ll be smarter in just a few minutes with our famous Joel Packer Has All the Answers individualized instruction. And there will be no test needed to move on to the next podcast.

What’s the main objective of No Child Left Behind? Increasing student test scores. Sure, the law is more than 1,000 pages long and contains some 50 programs, most of them unfunded mandates by the way. But the major “bright line” to quote Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, is that by the year 2014, every single student – 100 percent - will be proficient on statewide reading and math tests.

Every year from the start of the law in the 2002-03 school year through the year when all children will be above average and living in Lake Wobegon, increasing percentages of students must score proficient or higher on these two tests.

So, has it worked? Are the children now all above average, just as in Garrison Keillor’s fantasy world?

Secretary Spellings says everything is fine. She says scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) have increased, so she says NCLB is “like Ivory soap: It’s 99.9 percent pure…there’s not much needed in the way of change.” Even President Bush said, “These scores confirm that No Child Left Behind is working.”

But is it?

The percentage of fourth graders who scored at the proficient or higher level on NEAP only increased by 2% between 1998 and 2002 (pre-NCLB). Yet from 2002 to 2007 - after NCLB began - the increase in the percent proficient was also just 2%. Based on 4th grade math scores, the percent proficient rose by 9% from 2000 to 2003 but only 8 points from 2003 to 2007.

For 8th graders in reading, the percent proficient improved by only 1% between 1998 and 2002 but actually went down by 2 points between 2002 and 2007. The only area where performance was better post-NCLB than before was in 8th grade math, where the percent proficient went up just two points between 2000 and 2003, but rose 4 points between 2003 and 2007.

FairTest co-Executive Director Monty Neill criticized the Administration for its claims saying, “NEAP shows educational improvement across the nation slowed significantly since NCLB went into effect…despite the fact that curriculum narrowed in many schools to little more than test preparation in reading and math.”

The NY Times in a September 2007 article said, “…gains in reading achievement have been marginal, with performance declining among eighth graders… The results also showed that the nation had made only incremental progress in narrowing historic gaps in achievement between white and minority students, a fundamental goal of the federal law.”

The Civil Rights project at UCLA (formerly at Harvard) in a 2006 study, Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps, reached the following conclusions:

* NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states.
* NCLB has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap.
The Bush administration’s hard spin on its failed education policy doesn’t straighten out away from NCLB issues either. Spellings recently said about the Reading First program, “If ever there was a program that was rooted in research and science and fact, this is it,” she said. “This is [like] the cure for cancer.” Two months later her own Department’s research arm issued a report saying the Reading First program had no real effect on reading comprehension in Grades 1-3.

It’s time for Congress to reject the hype and outright falsehoods too often marking the final months of Bush policy.

It’s time to fundamentally overhaul NCLB and shift its focus from testing, labeling, and punishing. It’s time to support states and districts to build capacity, use comprehensive meaningful measures of student learning and school quality, and provide resources for proven programs like smaller class size.

And finally, it’s especially time to stop pretending when it comes to closing the achievement gaps – to allow school systems flexibility to put in place appropriate interventions targeted to the underlying problems in struggling schools – instead of failed one-size-fits-all mandates.

Thanks very much. I’m Joel Packer