Like Frankenstein’s monster, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) staggers onward. On February 17, President Obama met with key U.S. Senators to fast track the re-authorization of ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act called NCLB since 2001. Broadly unpopular among parents and academics, ESEA is supposed to be re-authorized every five years but has limped along for the last three years. President Obama has clearly stated re-authorizing ESEA is a key priority this year. His version, called "Blueprint for Reform" has been called "No Child Left Behind on steroids."
How did Americans end up in this educational mess?
ESEA was enacted in April 11, 1965 as limited federal funding assistance to states. Ironically, ESEA was explicit in forbidding the establishment of a national curriculum. ESEA funds went to schools for several purposes: Title I aided education of children of low-income families; Title II helped with school libraries and textbooks; Title IV underwrote research and training, etc. However, funds were allocated by population formulas and were not originally tied to compliance with broad federal policy.
In 1994, President Clinton signed an expansion, the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA), which re-authorized the ESEA of 1965 by adding bilingual and immigrant education funding, educational technology funding, etc. but still did not have substantial strings attached.
That changed when President George W. Bush brought his now-debunked "standards-based education reform" from Texas to Washington, DC, naming his ESEA changes "No Child Left Behind." It was a bipartisan effort co-authored by Senator Ted Kennedy. Under the committee leadership of now-Speaker-of-the-House John Boehner, this disaster passed the House of Representatives on May 23, 2001 by 384–45 (Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran was one of the few negative votes). The U.S. Senate passed it on June 14, 2001 by 91–8. President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002. Federal education funding soared from $42 billion in 2001 to over $54.4 in 2008.
Both the Bush and Obama Administrations imposed dramatic and broad policy requirements. If you wanted to receive any Title funding, you had to follow new federal policies. While states still pay about 93 percent of school costs, the federal government extorted educational policy for about seven cents on the dollar.
Presidential claims that America’s future depend on continuing these gun-to-the-head education reforms is based on graphs showing increases in reading and math scores. But the hailed increase in reading and math scores appear to be teach-to-the-test artifacts because there has been absolutely no resulting significant increase in the math and reading NAEP, SAT or ACT scores.
This artificial increase in NCLB scores has been bought at a terrible price of narrowing the curriculum, destroying teacher creativity and professionalism, and driving the best teachers from the field. Science, social studies, music, art and other courses have withered. There is dramatic evidence of increased drop-out from the utter boredom of the teaching-to-the-test.
While the President continues to promote the illusion that NCLB is the only way to "ensure America’s students have the skills they need to out-educate and out-compete the world and win the future," it is NCLB itself that is to blame for the decade of downturn in American education.
NCLB threatened schools that did not get all of their students "proficient" by 2014, a totally unreasonable educational goal. Every year more good schools fail to make AYP and go "on improvement," a policy that makes as much sense as insisting no one will die at hospitals.
Many are willing to accept any form of federal alteration to this stupid goal. But the real threat to American education is the federal one-size-fits-all policy interference in states’ educational jurisdiction. The U.S. earned over 270 Nobel Prizes before this reform fever. If we want more, it is time to restore teacher professionalism and kill No Child Left Behind (ESEA).