Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The 2004 Charles H. Thompson Lecture-Colloquium Presentation: No Child Left Behind: Opportunities and Threats

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The 2004 Charles H. Thompson Lecture-Colloquium Presentation: No Child Left Behind: Opportunities and Threats

Article excerpt

While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) moves toward proficiency in basic-skills development and in some ways represents progress toward equity, the plan ultimately shrinks the notion of educational excellence for all children, occasioning fallacies but not addressing compelling matters that relate to quality, equity, and academic achievement for all students. The plan potentially victimizes minority parents and students and sets a negative set of goals. It does not take into account the much lower educational resources that poor African American and other minority students start out with nor does it propose to remedy the discrepancy. Ultimately, the plan sets up public schools as examples of failure that will aid the administration's drive toward privatization.


Recently, Dr. Christopher Dede stated to a group, "No Child Left Behind's heart is in the right place but its head is in someplace else" (Urban Superintendents Association of America, 2004). The law's harshest critics would agree with its basic philosophy: accountability for the teaching and learning of all children is as American as apple pie. In several ways, NCLB as a piece of federal legislation is meritorious progress toward equity-a framework that embraces standards, accountability, and the guarantee of a high quality education for all children.

The devil, then, is in the detail. The legislation moves toward proficiency in basic-skills development, but in many ways, it shirks at the notion of educational excellence for all children. The article outlines how we got there, and what in the law might be considered as dangers or threats in achieving that excellence. Moreover, it takes a look at considerable opportunities to achieve the best education for all children.


Education for all children did not begin with NCLB. In fact, by the time George Walker Bush came to office, the pieces toward educational excellence were underway. Although, the first public school in America was created by residents of Denham, Massachusetts in 1649; the No Child Left Behind Act is only the latest in a series of efforts to address inequalities in public education that became entrenched for Black children with the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). While the decision established the principal of separate but equal, the Supreme Court and the other two federal branches did not uphold this standard despite a series of legal suits brought before the Court between 1896 and 1935 that challenged extreme disparities in the public education afforded to Blacks and Whites in the South. In the late 1930s and 1940s, legal suits brought by NAACP lawyers Charles Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and others, prompted the Courts grudging acknowledgment that the legitimacy of segregated institutions rests wholly upon the equality of offering. In Gaines ν. Canada (1938), the Court orders Missouri's all-White school to grant admission to an African American student, yet the Court declined to enforce its rulings. Only in 1950 did the Court find that a hastily converted law school for Blacks in Texas was unconstitutionally inferior and ordered the White law school to admit the Black plaintiff (Sweatt v. Painter, 1950). A new era began when the Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in its landmark ruling of Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (1954), declaring that racial segregation of public school students was inherently unequal, violating Black children's constitutional right to equal protection of the law.

The second phase of the efforts began immediately after the Brown II (1955) decision. The language of the Brown II ruling, "with all deliberate speed," is believed to have prompted the evolution of deliberate stalling because much of the decision making was left in the hands of local school officials. It was 1964 before there was a federal mandate to desegregate schools along with other public venues (Civil Rights Act of 1964). …

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