Stop Dumbing Down America; Reform the No Child Left Behind Act

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Stop Dumbing Down America; Reform the No Child Left Behind Act


Byline: George Allen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When I was governor more than 10 years ago, we significantly reformed Virginia's public school system and stopped social promotion. The key to our reform was creating new standards of learning (SOL) in math, reading, writing, science, economics and history for grades K-12. We instituted School Performance Report Cards so that parents, students, teachers and taxpayers could see how each school performed. Ours was one of the first standards- and measurement-based accountability education systems in the nation.

Recently, an American Federation of Teachers' report rated Virginia as the only state in the nation to have strong standards in all levels and subjects, according to its criteria for clarity, specificity and comprehensiveness. Virginia's SOLs have been proven successful, with student achievement rising significantly on a variety of tests, including SATs and national NAEP tests, and in all subject areas, with many more students mastering subjects from basic reading to advanced math and AP courses.

When the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was proposed six years ago, I was hopeful that it would provide the structure and incentives for schools across America to improve similar to Virginia's schools. As the NCLB was much less demanding in academic standards and testing than our Virginia reforms, I expected that it would fold in easily with Virginia's existing high academic standards. Unfortunately, the NCLB managed to muddy the waters for states that have or want high academic standards. By forcing bureaucratic federal determinations, the NCLB provides perverse incentives to states to set the lowest, most easily cleared standards to avoid sanctions. This problem of dumbing down will only get worse if the NCLB is not logically and promptly changed.

Similar to our approach in Virginia, one of the results of the NCLB that has received near universal acclaim is the disaggregation of test results into subgroups of students on the basis of ethnic background, economic situation, disabilities, and limited English-speaking ability. Breaking down these test results has shown us where pockets of students are being perpetually left behind while the school overall may be succeeding. However, the way the federal bureaucracy manipulates those subgroup numbers in evaluating the performance of a school has been unfair, illogical and, ultimately, detrimental to students and schools.

The NCLB requires every school to show adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward the 2014 goal in every subgroup simultaneously. Thus, if one subgroup of 60 students fails to show AYP, then the entire school is labeled as needing improvement, and NCLB-mandated sanctions go into effect, even if 80 percent of the students are learning and passing the exams. …

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