Stimulus Change: Reinforcer or Punisher? Reply to Ellis and Magee

By Rumph, Robin; Ninness, Chris et al. | Behavior and Social Issues, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Stimulus Change: Reinforcer or Punisher? Reply to Ellis and Magee

Rumph, Robin, Ninness, Chris, McCuller, Glen, Holland, James, et al., Behavior and Social Issues

One's view of NCLB may be largely determined by how one views what came prior to it being in effect. As Ellis & Magee suggest, flaws exist in the rules of NCLB, and changes to improve those flaws are very much needed. We have pointed to many of these same flaws as well as additional ones. But the question in terms of scrapping NCLB or refining it is one of being on the path to improvement or the path to decline. To evaluate this legislation one must take the long view and clearly see what was taking place before NCLB and see what is now occurring after the passage NCLB. We have tried to layout the history of progressive education, its world views, its contemporary views and how these views have led to an intractable and unaccountable educational system the performance of which is among the worst of the developed nations. We also presented some of the post NCLB international data that are suggestive of some improvement. Ultimately, despite the flaws, we believe that NCLB is helping to break up the stranglehold on public education by the culture of progressive education and that NCLB firmly supports the use of scientifically supported educational models.


The attack on objective tests by progressive educators is one of long standing. It is not surprising that groups representing progressive education such as The National Education Association (NEA) attack standardized tests as flawed because they "can only measure certain kinds of learning"(NEA, 2006). This is progressive education code for progressive educators' preference for subjective measurement and their revulsion for teaching subject matter. Using terms like "authentic assessment" for their preference for subjectively scored performance measures, reveals the cynical view progressives educators have for objective measurement which they view as inauthentic. Since objective tests are generally related to subject matter, part of the disdain for objective tests may be that objective tests imply that subject matter should be taught. The antiintellectual, anti-fact, anti-subject matter, anti-practice educational views are of long standing and represent core progressive ideology.


Ellis & Magee suggest that the federal government through laws like NCLB dictates the practices of the public schools. Constitutionally, the states have been delegated the power to regulate the public schools, not the federal government. What authority the federal government has in regulating public schools is through monetary allocation. Legally, states do not have to accept the monies provided under any education law passed by the federal government. However, if they do, then they are subject to the provisions of that law. It is true that states and the federal government have had a more significant role than in the past in influencing curriculum, textbook selection, and indirectly, the pedagogy used in classrooms. Certainly, when these influences promulgate ineffective practices as happened in the 1980's and 1990's, public education suffers. During these years, the states' curricula, textbook selections, and the accompanying implied or embedded pedagogy in math and reading, were largely consistent with the recommendations of the two progressive educational organizations, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). The result was a lockout of scientific models like Direct Instruction in favor of progressive practices such as "whole math" and whole language.

Our view is that NCLB was passed in large part due to the failure of states' efforts to support effective practices and adopting ineffective progressive education practices. We have argued that the standardization of educational practices, particularly without scientific evidence of the practice's effectiveness, is a particularly pernicious cultural practice (Rumph, Ninness, & McCuller, 2001).

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Stimulus Change: Reinforcer or Punisher? Reply to Ellis and Magee


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