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No Child Left Behind

New Page -- 20 March 2004

“No Child Left Behind” sounds like a pretty good idea – ensuring that every child has an opportunity for a good education, and demanding accountability from the public school system. Unfortunately, this United States Congressional legislation, which might have been more accurately named, “No politician left behind”, was a bipartisan effort which has instead created a monster only Calvin and Hobbes could appreciate. [Calvin loves dinosaurs and most anything else with ugly, massive teeth. And this baby has teeth!]

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has in fact been lauded as one of the great achievements of the Bush (aka Shrub) Administration. That should give you some kind of clue about its desirability.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that this law has the potential of becoming one of the greater travesties of the Twenty First Century, ranking right up there with enemy combatants, homeland insecurity, and Indianapolis. The freedom destroying and/or limiting possibilities of the NCLB law which are currently being foisted upon an unsuspecting populace by the powers that be – i.e., the men behind the curtain -- are quite frankly enormous. The NCLB, as it is presently formulated, is a disaster looking for a whole slew of victims. We're talking pretty serious bad news!

It is particularly important to note that the NCLB is bad news not because:

•  Its goals are unrealistic,

•  Its funding is inadequate,

•  It favors federal over local control, and

•  It's too punitive. [1]

These problems are all real, of course, and make the program enormously less desirable than one might hope for. But by far the greater problem with the NCLB is that it focuses on ensuring competence in reading, math, and science skills to the exclusion of other subjects. This is not its stated intention, but that's how it works.

Competence in reading, math, and science sounds pretty good. These seem to be the subjects that are in demand in a modern world. The difficulty arises when the standardized tests translate directly into job security concerns of teachers and administrators. For it is at that point that it becomes a lead pipe cinch that all the efforts by the educational community will be directed toward enabling the students to pass the tests, without regard to anything else . Educating students will become suddenly secondary to meeting a limited set of standards. The key is maintaining job security for the teachers and administrators by having their students pass the tests!

This problem is exemplified in “Beating the Bubble Test” [2], whereby one Iowa school became a NCLB poster child, but at a very substantial and horrendous cost.

“The casualties include social studies, creative writing, and teacher autonomy. ‘They're not learning civics, history, geography – a lot of essential skills that they're going to need to be good democratic citizens,' says fifth-grade teacher Shane Williams.” [2]

In the Iowa example, a year of states' history, geography and capitals has been shrunk to six weeks, and “writing skills have certainly deteriorated.” In addition, “Activities for the gifted and talented have not been cut, but high-achieving kids aren't grouped in accelerated clusters in regular classes anymore. They are spread out so they can help the lower-scoring students.” [2] Such inclusion of diversity in the classroom admittedly sounds very democratic, but it is actually more closely associated with the doctrine of communism – “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” It's also very anti-Capitalism.

Much more importantly, however – inasmuch as being anti-Capitalism is not necessarily a bad idea – is the fact that reading, math, and science may be considered to be the sum total of the essentials for individuals to become useful members of the corporate employee pool . These are the tools necessary to a job seeker, but not the tools sufficient to foster citizenship in a democracy. This is the whole point!

In fact, such jewels as creative writing and social studies are not considered conducive or necessary in becoming a cog in the corporate machine. Topics ranging from government, law, and economics to history, geography, education, communications, and comparative religion -- among other things – do not add to the corporate bottom line, and are therefore seriously downgraded in their alleged importance. From the corporate rule viewpoint, such studies tend to create an eagerness and willingness to Question Authority , an activity which is anathema to most corporations. Questioning authority is simply not something any regimented entity (corporations, governments, militaries, and the like) want to encourage, or for that matter even tolerate.

In essence, social studies do not have any intrinsic value to a corporation in their selection of corporate employees, and in fact carry a negative connotation. Such citizenship studies tend to upset the corporate applecart, particularly if and when the slaves suddenly realize the purpose of those big iron manacles on their feet and hands. Additionally, being able to write – and thus convey one's dismay over the current state of affairs, or to suggest to others in a lucid and convincing manner the nature of the problem – is also considered to be superfluous for the masses when it comes to controlling said masses by the power elite. Reading, on the other hand, is necessary for easily disseminating rules, regulations, orders, and instructions. “ Reading, good; writing, bad” is the new corporate motto.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the real reason – i.e., the hidden agenda upon which the No Child Left Behind law was created (and slipped through the lines of rational opposition) – is that corporations will have a fatter bottom line when they have a greater pool of qualified employees from which to select. In other words, no child should be left out of the employee pool and/or slave market. The greater the number of people with the ability to read instructions, rules, and notices, and then function productively in an increasingly technological society, the greater the ability of a corporation to pick and choose its employees.

A fundamental truth is that Uniqueness implies value . The contrary view is that standardization reduces the value of the commodity being standardized. At the same time, standardized and regimented rules of education create consistency in the cannon fodder being employed by corporations.

To educate, by definition, means to “draw forth”, but the NCLB's focus is for standardized behavior in only those subjects which a corporation needs for maximum profitability in its employees. Simultaneously, such a limited focus reduces independence and the ability of employees to demand anything at all in the way of fair wages, safe working conditions, and equality in the receipt of the fruits of their labors.

[There is also the slightly added advantage of not having a large population of essentially uneducated and thus unemployable individuals on the welfare roles, a traditional bugaboo of Bush's Republican Party and corporations the world over.]


From the viewpoint of some background, we might note the following from the government's own website in which it propagandizes the NCLB:

No Child Left Behind is designed to change the culture of America 's schools by closing the achievement gap, offering more flexibility, giving parents more options, and teaching students based on what works. Under the act's accountability provisions, states must describe how they will close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency. They must produce annual state and school district report cards that inform parents and communities about state and school progress. Schools that do not make progress must provide supplemental services, such as free tutoring or after-school assistance; take corrective actions; and, if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run. [3]

No Child Left Behind puts special emphasis on determining what educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding is targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that work to improve student learning and achievement. Reading programs are an example. No Child Left Behind supports scientifically based reading instruction programs in the early grades under the new Reading First program and in preschool under the new Early Reading First program. Funds are available to help teachers strengthen current skills and gain new ones in effective reading instructional techniques. [4]

No Child Left Behind requires each state to establish its own unique set of standards for reading, math and science . [ emphasis added, i.e. no writing, social studies, music, sex education, etceteras]

    • Taxpayer dollars will only go to states that have standards and expectations for improving schools or teaching a solid academic curriculum.
    • Under No Child Left Behind states are required to establish their own annual tests aligned with state standards for grades three through eight to measure how successfully students are learning what is expected by the standards.

Standards help direct schools toward common academic goals and unite the community for reform and achievement.

    • Standards help set a high academic bar for selection of textbooks, lesson plans and teacher preparation.
    • Accountability systems gather specific, objective data through tests aligned with standards. This information is used to identify strengths and weaknesses in the system.
    • They help schools focus resources on the best way to promote learning and help parents track their child's progress. [5]

[Obviously, the old adage of “reading, writing, and arithmetic” is outdated! But hey! Two out of three ain't bad for these guys. (Even if the more enlightened among us might opt for the Four R's: reading, riting, rithmetic, and reasoning.)]

Meanwhile, most of the opposition to the NCLB tends to concentrate around the subject of money. The National Education Association – termed by Rod Paige, the Education Secretary of the Bush Administration as a “terrorist organization” (a statement which was subsequently apologized for as a “poor choice of words” [6]* – has objected less to the downgrade of subjects designed to make better citizens of a democracy and/or a republic, and has instead leaped on the corporate bandwagon of demanding ever greater amounts of funding to carry out the latest edicts of the federal government.

Unfortunately, other loud attacks on the law don't derive from any such principled opposition to the burgeoning federal beast. Instead, complaints about "unfunded mandates" and teachers "teaching to the test" amount to just another thinly veiled effort by the education establishment to shake down taxpayers for more money and to avoid being held accountable for lagging student achievement. [7]

Meanwhile, joining in the “more money if you want accountability” theme is a collection of diverse groups, i.e.:

What started as Utah 's fiery defiance of a federal education law fizzled to an anticlimactic finish Thursday when the state Senate relegated House Bill 43 to summer study. Sponsored by Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the bill attracted national attention as the strongest stand -- Republican led, at that -- against the cost and "intrusiveness" of President Bush's prized No Child Left Behind reform law. Dayton originally wanted to take a much stronger stand against No Child Left Behind. An earlier draft of HB43 sought to opt out of the law altogether, but such a drastic step would have cost Utah $106 million in federal education money, so Dayton and her colleagues backed off. Other states are following her original lead, however. Arizona , New Mexico , Wyoming and Minnesota now are considering legislation to drop out of the federal law entirely. [8]

Nevadans should understand, however, that not all the fussing over No Child Left Behind is created equal. Those upset that the law marks an unrivaled intrusion by the Washington bureaucracy into an area best left to local and state interests indeed have a legitimate point. Why must states and local school districts launder billions through beltway education functionaries in the first place? Questioning the federal government's role in education is one thing. Complaining that the law doesn't provide enough funding or is too focused on test scores is quite another. [7]

According to Legal Database.com, the No Child Left Behind Act has fallen under much criticism since its passage, with particular focus on inadequate funding. In 2002 through 2004, Congress authorized between $26.4 billion and $32 billion to be spent on the No Child Left Behind initiative. The president's 2004 budget proposal would underfund the act by $9 billion, leaving local communities to make up the difference. [9]

Critics, including presidential hopefuls John Kerry and John Edwards, the nation's two largest teachers unions and other school officials, have harshly criticized the plan for its lack of funding. [10]

That's not the point, folks! What is being done by the NCLB is a return to the Work Schools of Kaiser Germany, which mandated minimal education for the masses (just enough to ensure their ability to work and obey orders).

What is needed instead is an expanded focus on: First, what does it take to create knowledgeable and discriminating citizens of a Republic? After that, we can work on providing entrepreneurial skills for those wanting to be their own bosses, and as a last resort, providing the ability for those so inclined to become willing and knowing cogs in the corporate machine.

The solution to NCLB, therefore, is to greatly expand the accountability standards to the entire school experience. Otherwise, we have a huge political majority without the ability to question, challenge, and demand accountability of authority!

In that regard, it's probably also time to set accountability standards for Presidents, Senators, Representatives, public servants, and so forth and so on. Maybe even CEOs ! Talk about radical ideas! Let's take away the burden on children and their teachers and apply it instead on authorities, adults, and executives! Wow! What an idea!


Back to:

Compulsory Education: A Dialogue

The Public School Nightmare 

Indigo Children


Forward to:

Seventh Generation Education

The Tao of Teaching 

Calvin and Hobbes

Health and Responsibility



[1] http://cgi.citizen-times.com/cgi-bin/story/editorial/50591 “ Essentially, arguments against NCLB can be put into four broad groups: Its goals are unrealistic, its funding is inadequate, it favors federal over local control and it's too punitive.”

[2] Amanda Ripley, “Beating the Bubble Test,” Time Magazine , March 1, 2004 .

[3] http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accountability/index.html?src=ov

[4] http://www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/index.html?src=ov

[5] http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accountability/state/standards.html

[6] “Notebook”, Time Magazine , March 8, 2004 . [* Paige's comment – amazingly enough -- may have some validity in terms of the NEA not exactly being an advocate of education. That the NEA is a strong advocate of educators is not in question, whereas the benefits for students (the alleged beneficiaries) tend to have a very low priority at the NEA.]

[ 7 ] http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2004/Feb-28-Sat-2004/opinion/23310496.html

[8] http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Feb/02272004/utah/142952.asp

[9] http://www.eaglepublications.com/article.jhtml?DB=dbase/dbase&DO=display&ID=1077918760_3247

[10] http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/news/stories/20040227/localnews/28626.html



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