I wonder why our policymakers in Washington, D.C., love euphemisms. Ten years ago, Congress passed No Child Left Behind, and by now, is there anyone in the United States who takes seriously the idea that “No Child” has been “Left Behind”? Since Congress can’t agree on how to change the law, maybe they could just rename it and call it “Many Children Left Behind” (MCLB) or “No Child Left Untested” (NCLU). When the name of a federal law is so clearly at odds with its actual results, either we must rename the law or declare it a failure or both. But, please, no euphemisms, no flowery predictions in the title of the legislation.
Then there is Race to the Top. No one has explained what it means to “race.” Does it mean that with more and more pressure on teachers, their students will get higher test scores? Surely, a “race to the top” has nothing to do with equality of educational opportunity. And what, exactly, is “the top”? Does that mean that if we just test everyone with greater frequency, then student scores will rise to the top of the world? Where is the evidence for that? Another deceptive euphemism.
The euphemisms that are most annoying, however, are “turnarounds” and “transformations.” When we think of a turnaround, we are likely to think of a charming little dance, perhaps one where we all hold hands and circle the Maypole, with rosebuds fluttering around the heads of the children. But “turnaround” means something dark and sinister, not a happy dance. It means that if you get the money, you must fire the principal, fire half or all of the staff, close the school, give it a new name. That’s harsh medicine, not a turnaround. Whether the new school will be better or worse than the old one is by no means clear. What is it about closing a school that promises that the achievement gap will close or that children who don’t read English will now learn English and speak it fluently? I don’t see the logic or the sense.
Honesty is the best policy. If the federal government really wants to fire the principals and teachers in the 5,000 schools with the lowest scores, why don’t they call it the Close Bad Schools policy? Or something that approximates the brutal reality? Why don’t they explain the mechanism by which mass firing leads to better education?
Just call it what it is.