Since the early 1990s, Dr. A. Wade Boykin, under the auspices of CRESPAR, a joint Howard University/John Hopkins University research collaboration, has worked with public school officials, teachers and students in Washington D.C., and Maryland to devise innovative teaching and curriculum practices for struggling schools, many of which are populated primarily by poor Black and Latino children. Not surprisingly, demand for programs produced by the research collaboration has grown considerably since the nation's schools have fallen under the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.
"School districts are willing to try new things to improve learning by their students," Boykin says. "The paradigm of schooling has remained one of sorting children. That simply cannot continue. A lot of our work has really been about trying to change the school paradigm away from talent sorting to one of talent development."
At the heart of No Child Left Behind is the goal that all children, regardless of racial or socioeconomic background, receive a quality education that brings them to proficiency in math and reading. The focus on bringing children up to proficiency levels and holding schools accountable for the performance of their students has marked the federal government's first intervention into closing racial academic achievement gaps in the United States.
"For most of the 20th century, there was no outcry that we educated a small percentage of children to high levels," Boykin says.
More than three years after the enactment of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the legislation, which incorporates both liberal and conservative ideas on school reform, generates praise as well as scorn. Mainstream civil rights groups, education advocacy organizations and progressives have praised the accountability measures that bring attention to racial learning gaps, but they criticize the Bush administration for not providing the funding to achieve reform. In fact, just last month several school districts across the country, along with the National Education Association, filed a lawsuit asking the courts to recognize that NCLB requires the federal government to pay for billions of dollars in new mandates. Conservatives, for their part, have resisted proposing significant increases in federal K-12 education funding, but have recommended changes to help states handle the bureaucratic demands of the law.
While it's clear that school reform under NCLB has added to a highly charged education environment in the United States, it's also evident that minority intellectuals and leaders are hotly debating issues over leadership, achievement and culture. With the fate of Black, Latino and American Indian equality in the 21st century riding on access to quality education, there are heightened expectations that leaders and leadership organizations take a highly visible and active role in closing the achievement gap. Brent Staples, a liberal African-American columnist, recently took civil rights organizations to task in the New York Times for "standing on the sidelines instead of fighting to ensure that this law succeeds."
"The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education. The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been curiously muted--and occasionally even hostile--to No Child Left Behind," Staples wrote on April 18.
Chicago Sun-Times public editor Don Wycliff, another African-American columnist, praised the Staples editorial in an April 21 column, writing that his colleague and friend "is dead-on right, and I hope the civil rights establishment--they know who they are--and all other opponents of No Child Left Behind will take his message to heart."
Citing the need to go beyond school reform as well as the scope of Brown v. Board, Dr. Edmund Gordon, the director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Columbia University, says that a national movement is needed to stimulate and reinforce learning outside schools for socially disadvantaged children. …