Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No Child Left Behind: solemn but never serious

No Child Left Behind seems to be quietly fading away. Since Congress cannot, or will not, reform this reform, President Obama is killing it off with waivers. Do this and that and we'll let you sidetrack NCLB.

I, for one, am not surprised. I never took NCLB seriously. The very name of the act indicates a preposterous goal. Given the resources available to schools and all the non-school factors that impact educational success, achieving this goal would require altering the whole of American society.

No Child Left Behind indeed. Such a goal is plainly preposterous. How, then, was it arrived at? The late Paul Goodman noted that Americans are solemn about schooling but seldom serious. And there isn't a better example of that than this preposterously ambitious "reform."

Imagine applying a similarly ridiculous goal to something we take seriously — let's say professional baseball. No Team Left Behind. We all know that to be successful in baseball requires a delicate balance of defensive and offensive capabilities. We also know that putting such a balance together requires resources. To get a first-rate pitcher you either need a ton of money or you have to trade a first-rate something else. Trying to get a twenty game winner by trading your utility infielder would get you laughed out of the game. Baseball is serious business.

Politicians dabbling in school reform, on the other hand, settle for merely being solemn. They hatch plans so simplistic it is embarrassing to rebut them. Let's remember some previous solemn "educational reform"goals. For example, that the United States must lead the world in science and mathematics education by the turn of the century? Well here we are twelve years after that due date and nothing of that sort has happened. Instead, the whole imperative was quietly shelved in favor of leaving not one single child behind. Why? Because no one was seriously committed to gaining this preeminence to begin with. It was just political theater.

No Child Left Behind is like that. The enormously complex tasks required to even approach this ridiculously ambitious goal were never even laid out. Worse, the prodigious resources required were not even been brought up for serious discussion.

Is this an exaggeration? Consider that NCLB requires that all teachers be "highly qualified." But actually achieving that goal required major, and expensive, changes that none of these solemn politicians were prepared to back. So, by time of the Obama administration, this solemn goal had turned into a laughable farce as thousands of teacher interns, rank beginners mind you, were placed in that category. Beginners as "highly qualified." What could be less serious?

In the fulness of time NCLB will be gathering dust with all the many other solemn, but not serious, reforms of yesteryear. But because of the disruption it has spawned, this particular bit of political theater will have so disassembled public schooling that, like Humpty Dumpty, we will never be able to put it together again.

For a more detailed consideration see

No comments: