Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: No Child Left Behind: Promise or Rhetoric?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: No Child Left Behind: Promise or Rhetoric?

Article excerpt

THE TITLE of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act conjures a vision of a school in which all students achieve at high levels. The past 12 months have, however, left open the question as to whether the title reflects bright promise or empty rhetoric.

NCLB's start has not been auspicious. The few parents who accepted the NCLB-mandated offer to move their students from so-called failing schools generally cited reasons unrelated to the quality of education. Many urban districts -- daunted by the numbers of students and schools involved, lack of transportation, and crowded facilities -- appear to have ignored the mandate.

Disturbed by the state-level response, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, in a letter dated 22 October 2002, commended a few states, while using such terms as "defenders of the status quo," "enemies of equal justice," and "apologists for failure" in a scathing denunciation of those that have "lowered the bar to hide the low performance of their schools."

The secretary is correct in observing a mixed state-level reaction. However, he is missing the point if he fails to see the problems stemming from flaws in the act itself, from a rush to implementation, and from the clear intent to impose a single program on states without regard to school improvement efforts already under way.

The goals of NCLB are surely worthy. Success for every child, identifying and addressing the needs of low-achieving students, and strategies such as annual testing and the provision of tutoring are beyond debate and deserve support.

What, then, is the problem? Start with a schedule that required implementation even before the final regulations had been issued. Move to a cookie-cutter approach to reform that appears to deny flexibility and to place in jeopardy the very states that have done the most to improve achievement. …

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