December 1, 2006

The NCLB-dismantling petition

I've been intending to write about the online petition calling for the dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act for several days, but it's been a very busy week, and I've been trying to sort through my thoughts.

As of 4 pm today, the petition had over 11,000 signatories.  Some of them are "heavyweight" opponents of high-stakes accountability such as Susan Ohanian, but my guess is that the vast majority are teachers and parents. One signatory (A.J. Horkey, # 7584), wrote the following:

NClb has been a thorn in educators sides because it was not created by educators, but politicians who know very little, if anything about teaching children. The expectations are too high for children who have low abilities, learning disabled, etc. . I took an early retirement from education because of the stressors of NCLB. I could no longer be creative, innovative and motivate my students because of the confinements of government mandates that government had no knowledge of constraints put on educators. Such constraints of lack of parent and administrative support, lack of understanding of the educational process of the community and the lack of the ability to redirect behavior problems with children.

Such sentiments are clearly heartfelt, and I agree with some of the concerns raised by the petition.  While I am deeply concerned with the privatization rhetoric associated with some advocates of NCLB, and the consequences of NCLB outsource essential functions of schools (heck, my advisor has probably been called a Marxist or neo-Marxist more times than most of the signatories combined), it is a mistake to call NCLB "corporatist." That dramatically oversimplifies both the legislation and the political roots of accountability.

More troubling, however, is the vagueness of the petition, which doesn't give a concrete statement of what should happen. Dismantle: what does that mean? Does it mean that we toss away the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on which hundreds of school districts and thousands of schools depend to have any semblance of sufficient funding? Does it just mean stripping away the accountability provisions added in 2001? I've corresponded with some of the key people behind the petition (and am working with several in another project), and I haven't yet gotten a clear answer. One correspondent told me that the name No Child Left Behind is just odious at this point. I understand the visceral reactions, but that's not something on which to hang effective political action.

I contrast the petition with the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind from late 2004. The joint statement, now signed by more than 90 organizations, has 14 recommendations for reauthorization. Some of them are more concrete than others, but they are all more specific than dismantle.

Both petitions are critical of NCLB but have different approaches. One petition is entirely criticism. The other focuses on policy recommendations.  I understand the appeal of the first, but I will not sign it.

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Posted in Education policy on December 1, 2006 4:30 PM |