NCLB Pushback At The New York Times

Letters to the editor at the NYT:
To the Editor:

“Making ‘No Child’ Better” (editorial, Feb. 5) misses the point that the No Child Left Behind law is founded on faulty assumptions of top-down mandates, zero tolerance, narrow forms of assessment, and privatization. These are all popular nowadays, but have been shown to be ineffective in other sectors (health, corrections, welfare and so on) and have a dismal track record so far in education.

“Tightening up” the law will only prolong the agony.

President Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as education secretary instead of the education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond has set authentic reform in education back by at least a decade. Educators aren’t the villains; we might actually know something about education and how to reform it. Consult us.

Gary L. Anderson
New York, Feb. 5, 2010

The writer is a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University.

To the Editor:

Die-hard backers of the No Child Left Behind law refuse to recognize that it has failed and needs a comprehensive overhaul. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, student performance was improving faster before the law than after it passed. Achievement gaps have not narrowed significantly.

No Child’s assumptions and strategies are deeply flawed. Updating the law’s name and making cosmetic changes are insufficient.

Real reform starts with determining why a school is not meeting standards, instead of test-driven, one-size-fits-all policies. Improvement must focus on building capacity to help students learn, not the fantasy that sanctions will transform educational quality.

Instead, Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing unproven nostrums like charter school expansion, which failed in Chicago, and linking teacher evaluations to test scores. These are no more likely to succeed than No Child Left Behind.

Congress needs to start over, drafting an education law that truly improves school quality and closes achievement gaps.

Monty Neill
Boston, Feb. 5, 2010

The writer is deputy director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and chairman of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

To the Editor:

I was intrigued by your phrase “placing a qualified teacher in every classroom,” seemingly mandated by No Child Left Behind. Does anybody really believe that there is an untapped magic pool of “qualified teachers” out there waiting to be placed in the classrooms of the disadvantaged?

The way to guarantee qualified teachers is to train and nurture those who have already chosen teaching as a career. Until boards of education, school administrators, parents, politicians and the general public recognize that teachers are indeed professionals, and treat them as such, they cannot expect professional results.

Teachers respond positively and enthusiastically to praise, constructive suggestions and genuine attempts to improve their performance, as do professionals in other fields.

I taught for more than 20 years in the New York City school system, all of them in schools in disadvantaged areas. I watched earnest, hard-working, mostly new teachers succumb and ultimately fail in a system that featured little or no support, thoughtless supervisors, subpar physical plants and a general feeling that they were disdained by the central board and the public in general.

I submit that for No Child Left Behind ever to succeed, we must first incorporate a module entitled “No Teacher Left Behind.”

Richard J. Leimsider
Staten Island, Feb. 5, 2010

To the Editor:

“Making ‘No Child’ Better” reflects a disturbing tendency in your editorial stance toward educators. Without language to the contrary, words like “fraud” and “evasion” create the impression that education is rife with incompetence and conspiracies to hide it.

Certainly incompetence and cover-ups can be found in education, as in any profession, but so can a great many instances in which educators are doing remarkably well in addressing daunting challenges with inadequate resources. The public interest would be better served by more recognition of those educators, and by some acknowledgment that their resistance to “reform” may be based on well-founded judgments that some reform initiatives are actually counterproductive.

True educational reform will not come from measures intended to force recalcitrant educators to do the right thing, but from coupling reasonable accountability with the support that competent, dedicated educators need to provide a good education for all.

Paul Ammon
Berkeley, Calif., Feb. 5, 2010

The writer is professor and director of the Developmental Teacher Education Program, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.

To the Editor:

“Experts Say a Rewrite of Nation’s Main Education Law Will Be Hard This Year” (news article, Jan. 29) notes that No Child Left Behind was unpopular “partly because it requires schools to administer far more standardized tests.”

All educators understand the necessity of assessment, but it is our obligation to do the minimum amount of testing necessary, and no more. Every minute spent testing that is not necessary bleeds time from learning, and every dollar spent on testing that is not necessary is stolen from investments that really need to be made in schools.

Any new education law should result in less testing, not more.

Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2010

The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.
h/t Krashen

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