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Mr. Obama: Kill NCLB

The anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind last Friday reminded me that my long support for that landmark bipartisan law needs revision. The law has served its purpose. Instead of amending it, as the Obama administration and the Congress seem likely to do, let's dump it and try something different.

I wouldn't make such a radical suggestion if I didn't think the law's main elements would survive without it. All the states have been forced to establish annual testing that identifies which schools are not serving their students, particularly those with family and personal disadvantages. Any politician who tries to junk those tests is going to lose the next election to an opponent who asks the simple question: "Don't you think our schools should be accountable?"

What we should do instead of No Child Left Behind is a more difficult question.

I have long been influenced by Chester E. Finn Jr., and other education policy wonks, who think President Bush and the Democratic Congress had good intentions in passing No Child Left Behind, but messed up the structure.

In his 2008 memoir "Troublemaker," Finn said "Bush and his congressional partners got this backward. The law should have set uniform standards and measures for the nation, then freed states, districts, and schools to produce those results as they think best, perhaps even on timetables of their own devising. Lawmakers should also have insisted on school performance being judged primarily by how much a school causes its pupils' achievement to rise, not just how they're faring in relation to fixed standards."

Congress is likely to change the focus to how much individual students improve, but setting national standards---with a uniform national test---is going to be much more difficult to do. Still, that's what I want.

The many different state tests, despite valiant efforts by thoughtful policy makers, started soft and have gotten softer. They set a mediocre standard, and are often so different that it is difficult to tell if a high score in Texas is any better than a low score in Massachusetts. Let's have one test. In fact, to save money, let's just make the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, now given to only a sample of students in each state, the test everybody has to take.

After that, let's see what the states can do on their own to get their children up to that standard. The states can decide what happens to those schools that fail to do that, as long as everyone gets to see their data. We are still a democracy. Harsh punishment of failing schools is not going to win much voter support.

We wasted a lot of time under the old law in arguments between the feds and the states over how the rules in No Child Left Behind should be interpreted. Let's let the states decide what do to with struggling schools, and let the feds wave the test results in their faces to shame them when they don't follow through.

Nobody is going to listen to me, of course. I don't care. I prefer writing about individual teachers and schools, and only address questions of national education policy because I work for the Washington Post, and my editors--and readers--would be cranky if didn't. But I am taking my lipitor and baby aspirins, and predict I will live long enough to see the tests become national and the motivators become local.

When that day comes, I will of course take full credit.

Read Jay's blog every day at

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on, Facebook and our Education web page,

By Jay Mathews  | January 13, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  National Assessment of Educational Progress; No Child Left Behind; national school standards; uniform national tests; Chester E. Finn Jr.;  
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That "race to the bottom" engendered by NCLB ought to tell you something about the importance of education in the education system. When faced with pressure to perform the states did what many governments do when faced with performance standards - they shortened the measuring stick. Now every state's a winner, every child gets a terrific education! And things can go on as usual.

Of course it's the last item that's crucial, that things go on as usual, that the comfortable status quo be maintained.

The essence of that status quo is the powerlessness of parents to threaten the continued employment of poorly-performing education professionals.

NCLB attempted to push the professionals to better performance via threats and that can work but only if the professionals can't seize control of the mechanism by which the threats are made good. But the professionals have seized control of that mechanism which is what they'll always do when faced with such a threat.

The solution's not a national standard which it should be obvious will be subject to the same, measuring stick-shortening response, but a change to that comfortable status quo. Empowering parents to threaten the continued employment of education professionals when they fail to perform.

That's the factor that charters and vouchers bring to the equation and by doing so obviates the need for a mandated national standard.

Various organizations, Washington Post among them, go to various lengths to measure the performance of schools.

It's an interesting exercise and a bit embarrassing for some school officials but embarrassment isn't fatal. After all, a lousy standing on the Washington Post list isn't going to cause anyone to lose their job. But that's because very few parents are willing to up stakes and move to a district with a higher likelihood of getting their kid into one of that district's good schools. If the cost of implementing a decision is too high you learn to live with the inevitable.

Notice how all that changes though when parents choose the school rather then the other way 'round.

When parents choose the school, right at the top of their list of priorities is the quality of the school. That interest pumps influence and importance into the measuring instruments because they determine the choice the parents make which determines the survival of the school. Competition among organizations to supply the demand for school rankings ensures honesty and a continuous refinement of the measuring technology. Parents are going to want to know not only where their school stands in relation to every school within reach but how their school ranks in the state and the nation. Being the best school in Detroit takes on a different meaning when the school's below average nationwide.

In any case, when parents can decide Washington doesn't have to decide for them.

Posted by: allenm1 | January 13, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Agreed - we need national standards. In my opinion, parents feel a false sense of security when their children score well on the DC-CAS. Compared to other assessments, it is not demanding.

Worse, in DC at least, we are marking "success" by a mere "proficient" (not advanced) score on that test. It creates and then institutionalizes low standards.

Posted by: trace1 | January 13, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Jay, You seem to advocate repealing NCLB in name only. Your title catches the eye but will mislead those who don't actually read the article.

Posted by: redhouse18 | January 13, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

It was called "No Child Left Behind" because "No Union Teacher Left Unpunished" wouldn't fit on the backdrops.

Posted by: mattintx | January 13, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Why don't you dump the testing obsession altogether? Or would that threaten your Kaplan financed paycheck?

Posted by: bwwww | January 13, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing wrong with testing as long as the standards are the same for everyone. If you are trying to elevate everyone in the country the standards must be the same nationwide. This would allow testing every year to the same standard and then we would really know where we stand. But, this business of the tests being a requirement for graduation makes no sense unless these same tests are used as the final exam for the subject matter they are testing. Right now, in Virginia at least, I can't speak for other states, they cannot be used as the final exams so the kids are being test twice on the same thing within weeks of each other. Does this make sense to anyone???

Posted by: w2bsa | January 13, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Unclench everybody, why not build an education system where we discover the potential of children instead of whigitizing them. Standardized testing is nothing more than an arbitrary standard that makes people who don't like the messiness of human existence feel good.

These are of course the same people who need a playoff system in college football - must have national champion - clean and neat! But, how much better would college football would be if we didn't need a national champion. The best thing about not declaring a national champion is the debate afterward - debate using facts and making judgements to support a position. Without a national champion players would play every game to their best ability so they could argue their place in the system.

How much better would education be if we didn't have goal limiting standardized tests? What if students could be judged on a body of work that shows their growth and achievement?

Don't worry, there will be enough scientists to drive this mad dash into the future and I would rather they be unwhigitized.

Posted by: postmichael | January 13, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

If there's a better way to do it, and it's politically possible to get approved and implemented, by all means do it. Many times, though, in the real political world, it's not possible to "do it a better way." THIS world is not perfect, and NEVER will be.

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | January 13, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse


Outstanding perspective.

National standards accompanied by a national assessment would be a good direction for the new legislation. And yes, the NAEP is already available and would make for an excellent national exam that all states must take to be eligible for this FUNDED mandate.

Posted by: phoss1 | January 13, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I take exception to your position.

Mr. Truman made a mistake by putting the "E" in HEW, the federal government, by the 10th Amendment, should not involve itself in the concerns of the States.

Nor should the federal government be establishing standards that require the expenditure of State funds.

The several States, on the other hand, have no business accepting funds from the federal government and then whinging about the cost of matching funds.

The concept of requiring the States to foot the bill for foreign language classes because students can't speak, read or write English is ludicrous. Fund classes in English instead. This is the United States of America, not China, Viet Nam, Mexico or France. None of those governments furnish education to non-language speakers. Why should we?

Posted by: rmlwj1 | January 13, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

NCLB or as I call it No Child Allowed To Think is and has been a disaster for the country except for those who made money from it, friends of GWB. The whole thing should be scrapped and teachers should be allowed to do their job, to TEACH.

This terrible legislation, whose real purpose was to funnel more money into the hands of neocon corporations who sell "educational" materials, needs to be repealed.

If Only GWB and his disgusting greedy warmongering cronies could be held accountable for all they have done.

Posted by: mtnmanvt | January 13, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

We are testing school children far beyond the educational value of the test results.

I think the testing industry has too much political clout, much the same way immigration detention center contractors, have too much political clout.

The result is a product/result at odds with the policy goal, and a lot of wasted time, money and lives.

Competent teachers with small class sizes, get the job done.

Posted by: lwfl | January 13, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

If you repeal NCLB, the tests will disappear. The States hate the accountability. The Unions and Schools fear it even more. Since NCLB was passed, my children's school suddenly realized it might not work to talk about creativity when everyone can see that the students couldn't comprehend what they read. Good schools have discovered that creativity and knowledge are not mutually exclusive; not only are both possible, but they are essential and complementary.

Posted by: EduCrazy | January 13, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I don't see how you could write this column, read it a second time, and let it go to print.

You write, "The many different state tests, despite valiant efforts by thoughtful policy makers, started soft and have gotten softer."

Isn't that a red flag? Have you diagnosed the reasons they did this, and concluded that those reasons don't apply to national standards?

Clearly not, since you quote approvingly Chester Finn's recommendation that the No Child Left Behind law "should have set uniform standards and measures for the nation."

Uniform standards have to be achievable by, say, 80 percent of the students. That means that they have to be targeted at the 20th percentile student. That is a recipe for standards that will start soft and get softer.

Finn tries to get around this by arguing that "Lawmakers should also have insisted on school performance being judged primarily by how much a school causes its pupils' achievement to rise, not just how they're faring in relation to fixed standards."

But that only works well for academic subjects that are learned in a strict sequence, like mathematics and basic reading skills. In fact, not even for mathematics, because that has become bloated with fluff ("collect data and make a bar graph") so that the "uniform standards" are achievable by the 20th percentile student.

John Hoven

Posted by: jhoven | January 13, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Thoughtful posts, as usual. But I have a question for those who think NCLB has harmed the nation. What data do you have to support that view?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 13, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Now if you'd only rethink your position on judging schools by how many students take AP exams!

Posted by: awrosenthl | January 13, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Jay - you must read Drive, by Dan Pink, as I mentioned before. Here's a post that relates its concepts to education:

Re the effect of NCLB - there's evidence that it hasn't helped, right? Hasn't Finn talked about that? Perhaps evidence of harm is anecdotal - parents, teachers and kids complaining about drilling, schools being restructured to no good end, etc., etc. -- lots of activity and turmoil with none of the anticipated improvement.

Posted by: efavorite | January 13, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Thoughtful posts, as usual. But I have a question for those who think NCLB has harmed the nation. What data do you have to support that view?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 13, 2010 12:45 PM |


Jay, there's data that supports and disputes NCLB. Has it worked a 100% effectively, No. Has student achievement increased, in some states, yes. Have proficiency levels increased, again, in some states yes. Research comparising why & why not is continuous.

Before NCLB the status of school systems nationally were abismal. Students were graduating without being able to read past 1st-3rd grade levels. Teachers, Principals, School Boards, Administrators and UNIONS KNEW this was occuring for decades but it continued.

But we must move forward.

It is impossible to find a solution without identifying problem. But valid solutions must include the creation of partnerships between students, teachers, and community.

No human is perferct so no "new plan" ever will be.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 13, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

**correction to prior post**

Research "comparing" etc...etc..

Posted by: TwoSons | January 13, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

"Try something different." I agree. Try obeying the Constitution. There is no Constitutional basis for federal meddling in education. Abolish the Dept. of Education and re-direct its budget toward paying off some of the mountain of debt accumulated by both parties.

Posted by: ClassicDoc | January 13, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I forgot to mention. These same kids that graduated high school reading at 1-3rd grade levels didn't know basic times tables either.

This led to...

Increased creation of poor neighborhoods + increased generations of individuals lacking basic literacy becoming a large populace percentage nationwide = to poor performing schools and poor performance of students within those same schools.

All occurring during the 20th century while laws exist that should have guranteed the Rights of Children Receiving Adequate Education but it didn't happen.

NCLB was a "band aid" when "major surgery" was required.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 13, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, nationalizing the banks and the auto industry was such a great idea, we should definitely let the U.S. government decide what every American child should learn.


When will you fascist Progressives "get it"? We don't NEED the government to set "national" standards.

Posted by: lisamc31 | January 13, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse


Today's educators (I'm one of them--ret'd last year) think raising standards will work, but it won't with today's coddled, materialistic, unfocused kids.

There are sufficient buildings and classrooms to do the job effectively in urban schools. REDUCE CLASS SIZES to 12 in elementary and 15 in middle and secondary schools. Have an aide in every classroom through 9th grade.

Eliminate administrators above the rank of building principal and use clerical-level employees (and foremen) to handle transportation, purchasing, maintenance, textbook, vocational materials, and warehouse operations, etc. Only in large cities might it be necessary to have assistant superintendents or subject area curriculum supervisors.

SO MUCH MONEY IS WASTED on kicking failed administrators to upper positions to do clerical work. Tell me why a receptionist (fired principal) needs to earn $115K while waiting in hiding for retirement that entitles him/her to $85K after we taxpayers can finally get rid of him?

Posted by: ultimateliberal | January 13, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Just so you know, I AM FOR RAISING STANDARDS, but in the process, we need to insure that our time is spent TEACHING, EXPLAINING, HELPING children understand processes, information, and results of their thinking and collaboration with the teacher. None of this high-level teaching and learning requires testing--it merely requires astute teachers who can determine from interaction with their SMALL CLASSES that the learning has been internalized by the students.

Been there, done that, with the awesome privilege of having small classes in troubled schools.

By the way, I do not believe there is such a phenomenon as a "failing school." There are failing PARENTS and there are failing STUDENTS, and in most cases, there is not one dang thing any teachers can do about it. Case closed.

Time for a change in the educational establishment and in the public perception of what teachers do.

Posted by: ultimateliberal | January 13, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

The left will continue to assure that public education remains scattershot and often poor whenever any effort to improve it risks offending teachers' unions. And teachers' unions don't like the possibility that fully credentialed teachers are poorly trained, don't know the subject material they are teaching or are simply going through the motions until retirement.

And, of course, crappy public education is a cornerstone of party building for many across the country -- the pathetic public schools across most of Hawaii are a great example. (Keep 'em down, keep 'em in the union, keep 'em votin' for the Democrats.)

Want a good education for your kids? Be ready to pay for it... or get a free ride like Barack somehow. (BTW, how did he get and who paid for his free rides at Occidental and Columbia anyhow? But I digress.)

Want a good K-12 education for your kids and want to save a few dollars? Support vouchers and pay attention to what's going on in your kids' lives.

Posted by: rethman | January 13, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Surely, Mr. Mathews you've been an Educational columnist to realist that NCLB was largely an outgrowth of a number of critical lawsuits by Black and poor parents on the effectiveness of States in spending ESEA monies on THEIR children.

The court decisions were a damning indictment of how monies have been squandered with little in the way of graduation or academic performance results.

The Decisions, i.e Denver and Kansas City, strongly suggested that monies be put into the hands of the parents to spend on the 'best' education for their children.

AND THIS MEANT VOUCHERS AND CHARTERS, both anathemas to the public ed. establishment and the unions.

So the result were the reforms in NCLB---accountability, national standardized testing; staged options for students in failing schools' and the 'what works' data base of proven interventions.

Writing from Maine,it became very obvious that 'BLUE' States would resist the impact of NCLB on how they did business; while the 'RED' states embraced it to one degree or another....and results show in gains in States like Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska; and backsliding in Maine and other states.

So now you want to go back a decade when we realized how states failed to implement ESEA and what exactly do you propose to do for poor children that works better than ESEA or NCLB?

Be specific, and show us the prototypes.....and if you can't, leave your sticky fingers off of NCLB.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 13, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Obama's men can rearrange the educational deck chairs on the Titanic anyway he pleases. The iceberg is still dead ahead.

The economy of the United States is now fully devoted to war and no longer has the capacity to maintain a functioning public school system. No wealth is created in this country today. Nothing is made in the United States anymore! Nothing that is except weapons of war. War making is the only "healthy" sector of the US economy left, which is why were staying in Iraq, escalating in Afghanistan, and expanding the fight to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But an ability to deliver bombs from drone aircraft on people around the world will not rescue a broken economy.

Whatever real wealth that hasn't been turned over to the banks or to keeping our Chinese creditors happy is devoted to war making (like today's $33 billion request for Afghanistan) and the weapons trade. The steadily accelerating destruction of public education in the United States is the result.

Posted by: natturner | January 13, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

NCLB needs to be changed or dropped. Everytime I read about NCLB everyone focuses on the testing. There is much more to this program than testing.

I've sat in on my son's classrooms in Aurora, Colorado and I was appalled at the ridiculous curriculum requirements for NCLB. Every minute of the teachers class time is regimented. So many minutes for writing, so many minutes for group discussion, for individual students, for small group discussion, etc, etc in EVERY class period. The teachers have to report on these small segments of time (five minutes, ten minutes, whatever length they are required for each task). The teachers have to evaluate EACH of these segments for each student and then do an evaluation for the class. Teachers are forced to spend their hours outside of school to do these multiple evaluations. They are also required to take numerous trainings throughout the year in order to "learn" time efficiency for these tasks. Teachers evaluated based on how well they do these tasks.

This system reminded me of military school---only the students are not of the same age and maturity as a soldier. I don't know how the teachers do it, or the students. Things move so fast, it is really hard to keep up. My son was one of the ones that was totally lost.

I was also on the Parents Advisory Board and it was incredible to see first hand what the school have to do. Because of all of the regimented learner, any creativity or extra curricular programs are kept to a minimum.

We DO NOT want teachers and schools to babysit, counsel, monitor, patrol and follow these silly NCLB guidelines. We want them to TEACH--let them TEACH. Don't BLAME the SCHOOLS, the unions or wages/raises for society's failures! At some point in the USA's history parent's decided the school system could do it all for their family.

Posted by: shirin80220 | January 13, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I get chills down my spine even thinking about the results of a national test to measure progress.

What in the world would a parent in Alabama or S Carolina do when they find out just how dumb their kid is compared to students elsewhere in the country? This would have to start with younger grade school students and follow them throughout their tenure in primary education to prevent pandemonium with current middle/high school student's parents.

Posted by: theobserver4 | January 13, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

That's total crap shrirn80220.

Before NCLB, there are teachers who passed students on and on knowing they were behind grade level in core subject areas.

Teachers were allowed to teach "the way they wanted to teach" before NCLB and, as previously posted, an alarming percentage of students were illiterate graduates.

More recently, as I posted multiple times as well, in Maryland, 70% of gradutes for the period of 2005-2007 had to take remedial classes their first year in college. They were not at level to begin their post-secondary studies.

Highly doubtful these students came from poor neighborhoods or parents that weren't involved or supportive of their education because they WERE accepted into college.

It's terribly frustrating for students because they're not receiving college credit for remedial classes, and expensive for families who have to pay for a non-credit courses.

Tax paying citizens should not have to pay again for private schools for our children to receive an effective education.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 13, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

The every child left behind act hasn't finished its agenda yet. It is a piece of legislation designed to destroy public education, and prop up private education—I.E. charter schools. The goals of all republicans is the destruction of anything the public sector has to offer. This legislation was designed to sets standards that can't be met, and to demonize school teachers and their unions. They want to replace our public education system with a private school educational system. Let's be honest about this. If the American people refuse to pay for public schools (where teachers are woefully paid, and the system is perpetually underfunded, and is always first on the chopping block for further state funding cuts year in and year out,) what in the world makes anyone believe they will be willing to pay for private schools where there is a profit motive? They won't. So only the wealthy will be educated once the republicans achieve the goals. This will provide them with an uneducated working class to fill their factories, and allow them to move back to the states from China and Vietnam.

The republican party, and anti-tax groups, such as the club for growth, have convinced the American people they can have the greatest country in the world without paying for it. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about education, transportation, the military or wars such as Iraq. No taxes is their goal.

The old adage—You get what you pay for—is correct. The main reason education in our country is failing is the lack of funding. You attract subpar people to the institutions, because the pay is so poor. The teachers and students don't have the resources needed for an education that will compete in the international market place, such as computers for the students. Many schools don't even have enough books for their students. And I haven't even mentioned crumbling or inadequate buildings, or the laying off of teachers so that the class sizes are out of control. Think about trying to teach thirty-five 13 year olds. That's not education, it's crowd control!

If America wants a better education for its children—PAY FOR IT.

Posted by: Xaretoughallover | January 13, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, nationalizing the banks and the auto industry was such a great idea, we should definitely let the U.S. government decide what every American child should learn.


When will you fascist Progressives "get it"? We don't NEED the government to set "national" standards.

Posted by: lisamc31


I've had a grand time stomping on other's dreams that learned from their genius parents that G Washington invented guns and Carter was the worst President ever. Feel free to continue advocating the "conservatpedia" agenda and watch your children and their children relegated to worse than a Wal Mart greeter.

You might not have noticed, but the rest of the world is competing with America whether they agree that the US is the greatest nation on earth or not. Companies don't want to hire yokels who are great at running their mouth without contributing anything of substance. So if we want our companies to succeed and if we want to succeed ourselves there must be standards.

Posted by: theobserver4 | January 13, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Xaretoughallover nailed it.

It's really ugly but it's sadly true. It's an unwinding of progress since the turn of the century and for some reason a portion of the population still finds this appealing. They haven't figured out that it will likely be their kid who is toiling at an OshKosh B'Gosh factory when they are 7 years old so the family can barely make ends meet. That's how it used to be and the business elites in this country would love to turn back the clock to that time again.

It's the same reason Medicare Part D was pushed through without a hint of funding to pay for it. They want to destroy it but without explicit consent to do so. What sane Republican would run on the platform of dissolving schools and doing away with Medicare/Social Security? They couldn't even win in Georgia on that they chip away at it until they can finally get it to collapse under its own weight.

Posted by: theobserver4 | January 13, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse


The poor taxpayer who cant afford private school has his children sitting while the educational bar is dropped because teachers spend so much time and school syustems spend so much money adding classrooms and teachers for kids who have parents who dont care enough about living in America to speak english or teach their kids english......
an embarrassment and disservice to Americans

Posted by: barbiek1 | January 13, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

The first requirement of education is to teach people how to learn. There are many elements to learning that are essential to a good education besides reading, writing and arithmetic.
The first things to teach are social skills for social interaction. Next would be the meaning of words and sentence structure for communications. After this would be thinking processes like comprehensive understanding, deductive thinking, inductive thinking, linier thinking and non-linier thinking. Other important mind tools are logical analysis and creative thinking.
It is important that people are able to recognize premises that are not consistent with reality and conclusions that do not follow from their premises.
Today's education is producing graduates that do not have the necessary tools to cope with a large and complex society.
Democracy is meaningless if people cannot think for themselves;especially when there are forces at work that specialize in deception.

Posted by: OchamsRazor | January 13, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Nice rant by Xaretoughallover

Sounds like it was circulated by one of the teacher's union; because it has no basis in fact.

If paying teachers more would help poor children---never forget NCLB was all about poor children; then Washington, D.C. and New Jersey would be a stunning success with their $100,000+ compensation packages.

In Maine, when a teachers avg. pay is added to the est. 40% extra in benefits--pension, gold plated health insurance, oodles of sick and vacation leave, subsidized continuing education....and then divided by a 185 day year and further discounted by a 6 hour work day--two hours are set aside by the contract for prep. and non-teaching taskes; you get an hourly rate of $55....and this in often in labor regions where the avg. hourly wage is 1/4th that.

In a region like GREENVILLE, the teachers are in the top ten percent of the wonder so many Maine teachers have subscriptions to TEACHER MAGAZINE which is targeted to ones who make over $70,000 a year...BMW and SAAB advertising targeted at under paid teachers...NOT!

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 13, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you on this one, Jay, but with one correction. You say: "let's just make the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, now given to only a sample of students in each state, the test everybody has to take." That's not possible. The NAEP uses matrix sampling where no student takes the whole test. You can't get a test score for an individual student. But you could use a matrix sampling scheme to get a district-level score, as is done for a few large districts now. And that's fine, because the district is where accountability should reside. There's no reason or justification for the feds to be poking into individual schools. The NAEP already serves as the gold standard holding states (marginally) honest. It's the best thing we've got, so it should have an expanded role. Unfortunately, the current admin is not pushing in that direction.

On you other question, there is no solid evidence that NCLB has done significant harm, but there's also no evidence that it's done any good (except for testing companies). It has certainly failed to achieve its main objective of closing racial achievement gaps, and politicos are still hollering about how we are lagging in the smarts race. So at best it was a wasted opportunity.

Posted by: dz159 | January 13, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

There is national testing...both ACT and the SAT's add a national commonality; and are summative, i.e. they show the results of 11 or 12 years of schooling.

To a lesser extent there is the IOWA TEST OF BASIC SKILLS that is used to measure grade appropriate content. It is the test of 'record' for the Iowa Dept. of Education and used by millions of homeschoolers, and I believe the DOD school system.

IOWA's schools are in the top 5 nationwide, some argue, the best in the U.S.; so it's pretty hard to argue against success.....but you can try.

There are also diagnostic tests, esp. when placing student transfers and those with behavioral or developmental problems.

Racial achievement gaps = Hispanics and Asians have outpaced Blacks; dispelling many theories about the ability of racial minorities(majorities in many regions of the U.S.)to achieve in American schools.

At some point, the lack of overall Black academic achievement is going to have to be realized as a racial characteristic, just like my inability to slam dunk.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 14, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

It is TOO simple and derogatory to imply that educational achievement is, or even could be, related to the color of your skin. For as long as teachers' expectations for the students performance are NOT connected to socioeconomic status, the problem of underachievent will perpetuate itself. There are children that succeed even if they are coming out of disfunctional families, single mothers homes, low income households, poor educational backgrounds, low self esteem of the parents, etc.. It is called resiliency. But, there is no doubt in my mind that the illness of the educational system in America is the result of poor teachers' preparation added to the access of children to sound education challenges instead of low standards.
Schools need the assistance of the community in which they are located, in the form of developing suplemental programs to help the students' families who need help in ANY area; after school enrichment programs that keep the children from being "lock key kids" in a safe and motivating environment, rather that going back to an empty house or hanging out at the corner. Finally, the clasroom should be the place where children learn that one of the missions in life is to leave this place, this country, better than the way we found it. Yes, it will be a matter of class struggle for as long as there is one education for the masses and another education for the priviledged.

Posted by: albertorparedes | January 14, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I wish I had a crystal ball because I would like to be able to observe the final end result of this interminable degate, if there is one. Education has been a state and national issue for the last thirty years. Has education gotten any better? I don't think so.

The war against teachers under the guise of a war against teachers' unions has been waged unrelentingly for at least the last decade, courtesy of NCLB and the right wing.

The education mess is all the fault of teachers, they say. Incompetent teachers.


NCLB was the brainchild of George W Bush. A great proponent of publicv education? someone who would favor public schools over private schools?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'm suspicious.

Schools are like the canary in the coal mine. They are our children and our society, our future society. Our children are who we are.

It is simplistic to maintain that the problems with educating our youth to an acceptable standard would be solved if we just got rid of the incompetent teachers. The problem is much deeper than incompetent teachers or teachers' unions that protect incompetent teachers. To see the problems of education that simplistically is to ensure failure no matter what we are trying to measure and attain.

Posted by: francis4 | January 14, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

A lively discussion--thank you.
For Common_Cents1, I have a different view of the history of NCLB, and I am old enough to have followed most of it at the time. Those law suits you mentioned proved to be dead ends, and added much proof to the view that a big shot of more money will NOT solve these problems, at least if spent in the way those districts affected chose to spend it. The tons spent to upgrade schools in Kansas City, without much effect, provide one example. I reviewed a good book on this recently. Go to
NCLB came about, according to my observations and those of many scholars who have influenced me, as a natural evolution from the attempts of southern governors in the 1980s, including Bill Clinton, Dick Riley and Jim Hunt, to lure big companies to their states by showing them that they had improved their public education systems and thus could provide them literate workers, and could get their employees' kids ready for college. To so that they instituted minimum standards and tests to keep schools and school districts honest. Several Republican governors, including George Bush, joined in, and eventually both parties decided they needed a federal law that required all states to do this. Thus NCLB.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 14, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

The poster, natturner, has it right. There is something, no not something, but many things wrong in our society and the problems in education only reflect those deeper problems.

NCLB was meant to be a bonanza for the testing companies. I just can't imagine that "W" cared about your kids. And it has been a wonderful bananza.

Posted by: francis4 | January 14, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

JAY....I think when the Denver NAACP sued and that court laid out vouchers as one possible redistribution of EASA money; and the N. Carolina court basically put the public schools in receivership; it continued the court's thinking in Serrano II where vouchers were one option.

Vouchers scare the bejezzus out of Unions and Public ESSA had to be reformed with more teeth or a court would order the money to go into a voucher program.

Read the books written by the winning side in the Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. school voucher fights; and you'll see a familiar lait motif from parents who could have just as easily gone to court for educational justice

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 14, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

"NCLB was meant to be a bonanza for the testing companies. I just can't imagine that "W" cared about your kids"

'W' cared so much for improving the chances of Hispanic kids he installed many educational reforms and increased their academic success and graduation rates so much he was strongly backed by LA RAZA and other hispanic parent's groups.

Laura Bush was a school teacher who also 'cared for kids'.

What bizare world of hatred doyou live in?

R U an URBAL? Urban Liberal.

Posted by: Common_Cents1 | January 14, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse


Would you accept this summary of the evidence?

After spending tens of billions of dollars NAEP increases have slowed. Narrowing of the curriculum has increased, although we can debate how much.

Morale of teachers has plummeted. We are now united in our professional judgments that the educational process has been damaged. For us, the "bubble" of soaring State scores in contrast to slowing NAEP is evidence of the corruption of teaching and learning. (I would think policy-makers would feel the same, being offended by the proliferation of bogus "research" and even having the Obama administration promoting policies that social science has documented as psuedo-science)

From MY PERPSECTIVE, NCLB has caused more harm that good. I imagine there are people who see some more good than harm. But I supect that kids that have been helped have been helped marginally.

The kids who have been harmed, though, have often been harmed terribly. From the perspective of the elementary kids (mostly poor) who can no longer take field trips or recess, while being fed a steady diet of soul-killing test prep, NCLB has caused a lot more harm than good. And I'm going to fight for those kids even if some good came to some others. And that gets us back to opportunity costs. These win-lose policies where some supposedly benefit by beating down others are lousy ideas.

So, I'd turn the question around. Has NCLB provided any evidence that its type of accountability can be reformed? The new evidence has all been in the opposite direction.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 14, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Testing companies score big profits
by Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
April 17, 2005


As I'm in a hurry. This was the first entry on the profits of testing companies since NCLB: (There are thousands of better ones)

"Thousands of students all over Minnesota including kids at Jackson Preparatory Magnet school in St. Paul are taking state and federal mandated tests (MPR photo/Dan Olson)
Passage by Congress three years ago of the No Child Left Behind law has been nothing short of a windfall for testing companies in this country."
That's just the first of thousands of downloads. Since NCLB, testing companies have posted profits in the hundreds of millions. Just google it.


As for the insult, yes, I'm an urban liberal. I would describe myself as an urban leftist/socialist.


Laura Bush, who worked for only a year before marriage, was a librarian, not a teacher.

Your comments on the Hispanic community are simplistic and don't prove anything, except to you. The Hispanic community voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. No one knows what you're talking about, except you.

Most of the leadership of the Hispanic communities nation-wide are opposed to NCLB. Do some research.
*****************************************************************In Florida under Jeb Bush, NCLB left the testing and computer contracts in the lap of the silent brother, Neil Bush. He of the recent ugly divorce fame. He reaped uncounted secret and overt millions from testing instituted by BOTH brothers.

As an aside, in what has to be one of the most revoltingly greedy statements ever; Barbara Bush offered to donate $30,000 to victims of Katrina.... IF, yes, IF they would install and use Neil's computers from one of his several companies. Talk about slime.

Also: This dude's a REAL Bush. You should google him sometime.

NCLB was a Bush Republican scheme. How could it be about minority kids? When did the Bushes ever care about minority kids? How could any thinking human ever think it was about kids? NCLB was about the profits of testing companies.

By the way, ever do any research on how much money the testing industry contributed to "W's" campaign? It's substantial. Just a coincidence, I guess.

Posted by: flamingliberal | January 14, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

NCLB has utterly deformed education--all reading and math all the time, no writing instruction, it's too hard to assess. See my take on what we need in my Takoma Voice column this month, at

Posted by: SusanKatzMiller | January 15, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Jay, your understanding of the history of NCLB is correct, but the "standards" and "standardized tests" logic hasn't worked as intended. "Goals 2000" failed to nudge the education system. NCLB was to teach all kids to read by 2014. Rather, all schools in the US are headed to be designated as failures by 2014.

Standardized achievement tests throw no light on the instruction that will reliably deliver national academic accomplishment aspirations. The instruction remains a black box between the standards and the tests. Aggregate kids and teachers have adequate capacity. The unaccountables at the top are unwilling/unable to admit that the standards/standardized tests dog won't hunt. More domestic nation/educational capacity building is needed.

Posted by: DickSchutz | January 15, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

For awrosenthl, CONGRATULATIONS for being today's hot quote on our education page. Check it out at To answer your good question, the more I see the impact that increasing participation in AP and IB has on high schools, the more I am glad I decided to try that measure as a way to rate schools. Please visit schools like Wakefield in Arlington, Columbia Heights in DC and Springbrook in Montgomery County before you make up your mind on this. The proof is in the classrooms.
For johnt4853, you need to cite the actual data you are referring too. I have seen no sign of NAEP increases slowing, particularly if you look at the data over several years, which is the best way to do it. I'm not saying NCLB has set the NAEP on fire, but it is hard to do worse than what the NAEP has been doing over the last 30 years. As for teacher morale, I would LOVE to see before and after professional data on that. If you've got it, post it here. And I am not talking about teacher reaction to NCLB. Most don't like it. I am talking about how they feel in general about their jobs. I knew many teachers before NCLB, and I see no significant difference in their morale now. They have tough jobs that have always had problems.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 15, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse


There has been numerous accounts of the slowing of NAEP scores, all documented by respected social scientists. I know of no counter-arguments by anyone. The closest thing to a refutation was the redefining of the "NCLB era" so that it included the Clinton years. Like Casey Stengal said, "You can look it up."

I'll dig up the citations. But when these studies were published they all got plenty of attention in press.

The evidence on teacher morale comes from polling data. You're right, I guess, that the direct evidence refers to NCLB. I guess its possible that we're all saints that we handled our anger over NCLB and its humilations, and it hasn't effected us at all. I'll look up the data contrasting Georgia teachers and other teachers. According to that poll, Georgia is one place where teachers said that NCLB-type accountability hasn't taken away their autonomy, so their positive answers on other issues and other "reforms" probably come from the way NCLB was handled (by the way NAEP improvements in Atlanta dwarf those in NYC, DC, and elsewhere where accountability was designed to punish teachers.

So, as I do my homework, I'd ask whether you agree that humiliation of educators is an inherent characteristic of NCLB? Even if data-driven accountability was possible without insulting us as human beings, wouldn't you agree that NCLB WAS DESIGNED with rubbing teachers' noses in it as one of its core principles? Do you know of a RESPECTED profession where data-DRIVEN accountability as opposed to data-informed accountability and evidenced-based decision-making was employed. To my knowledge, data-driven accountability has been reserved for court-ordered sanctions towards persons who have been convicted of severe transgressions. Data-driven accountability has been a tool for the Voting Rights Act, or others, who are under supervision by the Court. Do you know of any counter examples?

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 15, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse


Here's the homework I promised, but its rushed because I have to get onto the RttT info that's being released.

The best known studies were conducted by Bruce Fuller so I’ve cut and pasted from one of his latest.

New Research on Achievement
Test Scores Slow Under No Child Left Behind Reforms, Gauged by States and the Federal Assessment

Bruce Fuller ... noted that the strong advances in narrowing racial and income-based achievement gaps seen in the 1990s have faded since passage of ‘No Child’. "The slowing of achievement gains, even declines in reading, since 2002 suggests that state-led accountability efforts—well underway by the mid-1990s—packed more of a punch in raising student performance, compared with the flattening-out of scores during the ‘No Child’ era," he observed.

I always focus on the most important NAEP indicator, 8th grade Reading. After all, as Secretary Duncan says, elementary test scores tdo not a career and happy life make, but failure to read on the eve of high school is huge.

In the decade before NCLB those scores increased by 7 points, while Black 8th grade reading increased by 8 points and the bottom 10 percentile increased by 7. All three have been flat since then.

I didn’t mention the push-out phenomenon which may be the worst thing about NCLB because it is still debatable. After reading the audit of New York City’s test scores and how they inflated their official graduation rates, I am confident that Linda Darling Hammond was correct when she wrote:
Recent studies in Massachusetts, New York and Texas show how schools have raised test scores while "losing" large numbers of low-scoring students. In a large Texas city, for example, scores soared while tens of thousands of students--mostly African-American and Latino--disappeared from school. Educators reported that exclusionary policies were used to hold back, suspend, expel or counsel out students in order to boost test scores. Overall, fewer than 40 percent of African-American and Latino students graduated

But let’s focus on solutions and Title I could be a huge part of the answer if we got rid on NCLB. The best research comes out of the Chicago School Consortium, and the best summary comes out of Robert Balfanz’ shop. The billions of NCLB remediation money has largely been wasted because after-school remediation can work when a school has a reasonable percentage of students (10 to 20%) and they are only two to three years behind. But when the majority of students are behind, and when the are 4, 5, or 6 years behind, they need comprehensive solutions, not catchup. Without the CYA mentality worsened by NCLB, Title money could be creating integrated community schools, longer school days for addressing the socio-emotional, and the extracurricular, etc.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

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