Friday, May 03, 2013

‘NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND’ GETS LEFT BEHIND: “Unlike the state-designed NCLB standards, the Common Core State Standards are a thinly veiled, unconstitutional effort to implement a national curriculum.”

  • WSJ: Washington grants waivers to dozens of states, despite the law's clear benefits.

  • smf: I hate it when I agree with the WSJ, especially when I disagree about the premise of their argument (ie: NCLB was good!) But this editorial– and the letters to the editor that follow - are basically-and-factually (if not philosophically) correct.


Op-ED By ERIC SMITH in The Wall Street Journal |

April 29, 2013  ::  It has been 30 years since the landmark report "A Nation At Risk" documented the failings of America's public-school system, and the past three decades have seen much promising reform on the local, state and federal levels, in legislatures, on school boards and in classrooms. Yet today the trend lines again are moving in the wrong direction, with federal policy inviting states to back away from their duty to ensure that students receive the education they deserve.

Since 2011, the U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers to 34 states and the District of Columbia exempting them from some of the core accountability measures in the bipartisan 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Ten more states have waiver applications pending. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature is considering loosening public-school testing standards, and nine districts in California have independently moved to submit NCLB waiver requests.

No Child Left Behind was based on the idea that schools should establish measurable educational goals and be held accountable for meeting them. This is the only proven formula for improving education in this country—and NCLB has generated some amazing results, particularly in low-income minority communities. Unfortunately, opponents of the law have relied on disingenuous claims in pushing for waivers.

Myth No. 1: The federal government doesn't have a role to play in local education decisions. Teachers and local educators have primary responsibility for teaching students, but that doesn't mean that other levels of government should remain silent. When schools fail, no corner of government can abdicate responsibility.

Most American schools derive 10% or more of their budgets from the federal government, and schools have lobbied for more federal dollars even as their performance has stagnated. (The Economist magazine recently ranked America's education system a dismal 17th in the world.) NCLB allows states some flexibility to set their own standards, but it ties funding to whether they meet meaningful goals. Its simple premise is that Washington shouldn't reward schools if they fail to educate students.

Myth No. 2: Standardized tests are a poor means of measuring student learning. Of course the education system shouldn't discount the judgment of teachers and school administrators, but objective data can make educators and policy makers aware of problems that were previously ignored.

While schools had long been concerned about low achievement among minority students, only NCLB testing revealed the true depths of America's racial-achievement gaps. This was a long overdue wake-up call. Just three years after the law was signed, proficiency in reading and math among Hispanic and African-American students hit an all-time high.

Myth No. 3: NCLB unfairly holds teachers chiefly responsible for student performance. The best chance a child has to succeed academically is to be in the classroom of a skilled teacher. Student testing and accountability standards can help identify good teachers, retain them and determine best practices for helping others improve their craft.

Even marginal improvements in teacher quality can be significant. A 2012 study by three economists—Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia—found that if a student has just one excellent teacher for a full term between fourth grade and eighth, the student will earn $4,600 more in lifetime income.

That's one good reason why it makes sense that student achievement be tied to teacher evaluation.

Myth No. 4: The fact that so many states want waivers from NCLB shows that the law didn't work. In 2006, five years after NCLB's passage, the Department of Education determined that 43 states and Washington, D.C., had either improved academically or held steady in all categories. America's 9-year-olds have made more progress in reading skills since 2002 than they did in the 28 years before NCLB's passage.

Despite this success, schools in 16 states can now repeatedly miss their "annual measurable objectives" without any significant state intervention or consequences. This isn't a reflection of NCLB's failure but of failed political leadership in Washington.

Americans applaud setting goals. Education should be one of them, even if it means exerting pressure on entrenched bureaucracies. But only if Washington is dedicated to this goal will America really develop a school system that leaves no child behind.

Mr. Smith, a fellow in education policy at the George W. Bush Institute, was Florida's education commissioner from 2007 to 2010.

A version of this article appeared April 29, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: 'No Child Left Behind' Gets Left Behind.

LETTERS: 'No Child Left Behind' Left Behind for Core Curriculum

LETTERS /May 1, 2013, 3:54 p.m. ET |

Oh, Eric Smith, we're wishing for the days of No Child Left Behind while we're fighting its replacement, Common Core, in Florida ("'No Child Left Behind' Gets Left Behind," op-ed, April 29). Unlike the state-designed NCLB standards, the Common Core State Standards are a thinly veiled, unconstitutional effort to implement a national curriculum. Said to be "state driven," they were actually written by left-leaning educational experts and endorsed by unelected NGOs, including the National Governors Association.

Said to be voluntarily adopted by 45 states, the core standards were required to qualify for Race to the Top stimulus-funded grants and tied to Title I funding from the Education Department. Also troubling are the 400 data points required to be collected on every student and his or her family from kindergarten through employment. The data collection was agreed to before the states saw the specific data or understood the collection costs. Our school district in Indian River County is planning to gear up for major expenses in software, hardware and personnel to partially meet the requirements by June 2014.

The standards were said to be built on "international benchmarks" and not a curriculum. We pine for the days when parents and teachers complained that the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test required teachers to teach to the test and wanted them stopped. If core standards aren't curriculum driven, why are the creators of common core the consultants to text-book and training-material companies like Pearson Education? As always, follow the money.

We agree that standardized tests are a means of assessing student learning and affective teaching, but we want our elected officials responsible for the standards and our parents and school boards able to change them to meet local needs. Unfortunately what's been left behind is local control of education.

Susan Mehiel

Vero Beach, Fla.

Eric Smith's op-ed on educational standards has a powerful message: "Americans applaud setting goals . . . even if it means exerting pressure on entrenched bureaucracies." However, there are over 4,500 bureaucrats in the U.S. Education Department, none of whom teaches in schools, colleges or universities. The federal government provides about 10% of the funding for education, but its regulations increase the actual cost of education by much more. Eliminating the Education Department and returning the full responsibility for education to the 50 states would be much more cost effective and in keeping with the U.S. Constitution, which doesn't give any power over education to the federal government.

Bill Peter

Edina, Minn.

What Eric Smith fails to point out in his defense of No Child Left Behind is why all these states, even Texas, are requesting waivers. The law, as it is written, requires every single student to be on grade level in 2014. That includes special education students and English-language learners, although it takes seven years to master a new language. Unfortunately, setting a goal doesn't make it happen. Ask Mao about his five-year plans.

Every single school, including those which are well-funded and exceptional, will fail NCLB in 2014. In addition, Texas is leading the way in the backlash against the testing regime that has distorted and dominated public schools. The best reason to send your child to a private school is to escape the tyranny of testing.

Sara Stevenson

Austin, Texas

Once thing for sure, both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Education Department have a favorite word: waiver.

Tim Dolan

Saint Peters, Mo.

A version of this article appeared May 2, 2013, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: 'No Child Left Behind' Left Behind for Core Curriculum.

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