Leave Behind No Child Left Behind

A world of carrots only and no sticks? That’s certainly one vision of the world.

In an editorial with the subtitle “use the carrot,” the Topeka Capital-Journal criticizes the No Child Left Behind law.

The middle of the opinion piece does allow that “The goal of the NCLB was commendable. The concept was so popular that it was adopted with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats. And, in fact, the program has produced some significant improvements in students’ test scores.”

But . . . it includes “punishment for schools” that fail to meet annual goals.

That’s bad? We are supposed to infer.

In the business world, a company that fails to satisfy the needs of its customers is punished: the stock price falls, employees are dismissed as staff is reduced, perks are trimmed, managers and CEOs are pushed out. Many good people who had nothing to do with the failure of the company suffer. But new or existing competitors see the opportunity and provide better service to people. That’s the harsh life of business.

In the world of government-operated schooling, an organization that fails to meet the expectations set on it–that children will learn–gets more money to work with. Sometimes managers are let go, but teachers aren’t dismissed (tenure) and too many of the fundamental ways of operating are left unchallenged. In other words, there’s little suffering–except for the students, whose poor education set them up for a more difficult life. The rest of us suffer to, in the form of higher rates of crime, a less productive work force, and the like.

So when we talk about schools being “punished” by the requirements of No Child Left Behind, it’s the students who are already punished. The sanctions levied on schools, such as paying for tutoring from private companies, may be unpleasant for school managers. But they can be a salvation for students.

Keep that in mind next time you hear about schools being “punished.”

The editorial calls for abolishing the expectation that 100 percent of students attain proficiency. That’s an argument that can be made. But then it says that an alternative is to “recognize that students aren’t equally capable of scoring proficient on the tests and provide extra help for those students.”

If you’re going to argue that some students are going to not achieve proficiency, why would you then ask for even more money to help them? You’ve already admitted that you’re banging your head against the wall.

Source: No Child Left Behind: Use the Carrot, Topeka Capital-Journal, November 28.

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