Understanding the Quotno Child Left Behindquot Law

No Child Left Behind, the extension bill of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, simply gets it all wrong. Based on the notion that all children deserve an equal chance regardless of their racial, ethnic, or socio-economic status is a holdover from liberal modernity. In point of fact, race, ethnicity and socio-economic status do matter and are often, either alone or when coupled with other factors, the point around which ‘success’ in school is measured.

NCLB rests on the faulty principle that educational research can be conducted in controlled conditions and that the results of such controlled research is generalizable to all populations. This form of ‘scientific’ research is all well and good when conditions are controllable, such as in drug trials for disease control. Education, however, does not deal with disease nor does teaching resemble a formula that can be manufactured under controlled conditions. Students are not a disease, they are human beings with all of the positive and negative baggage attached thereto. Teachers, by the same token, are not pills to be administered to students. Quite the contrary, teachers, too, are human, each one unique. Teachers act differently from each other as well as across time within their own classrooms. We cannot use research to tell us ‘what works!’ so that it can be transferred to every teacher in every classroom across America. Rather, we can, and should use research to inform the professional teacher ‘what worked’ over here and over there. By doing so teachers get the opportunity to think about their practice in thoughtful and creative ways, to take something that worked for one teacher and finding ways to make it work for themselves.

By stressing high-stakes accountability NCLB gets it wrong on two counts. First, Hillocks has argued persuasively that high-stakes testing does not measure student achievement. How could it if the tests are not aligned with what is being taught in schools. Somehow, something was lost in translation and there is a significant disconnect between high-stakes tests and what is (or is supposed to be) taught in classrooms, By failing to align tests with practice there are serious questions as to the value of the tests in the first place.

Finally, NCLB holds teachers accountable for the performance of their students. This formula is based on the false notion that one can be held responsible for the performance of another. It is not that I don’t think teachers ought to be held accountable, the question is accountable for what? Hold teachers accountable for what they, themselves can control: how they plan for instruction, how they deliver instruction, how they develop themselves as teachers. Do not ask the teacher to be responsible for the academic behavior of her students, behavior over which she has absolutely no control.