Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

The Senate committee HEALTH, Education, Labor, and Pensions passed the Alexander-Murray bill today.

A note from Leonie Haimson:

“Senate committee passed ESEA re-write 22-0 today; a tremendous rebuke to Arne Duncan’s prescriptive & damaging ed policies. Feds will no longer be able to mandate or incentivize specific standards, school improvement strategies or teacher evaluation policies.”

Chris Hayes interviewed Arne Duncan and Peter Greene reports on what happened.

You can imagine Arne artfully dodging and weaving when Chris asked straightforward questions. Arne insists that Common Core is confused with the unpopular tests (that Arne funded). Arne suggests that politicians are upset by Common Core but Real Parents welcome it.

“Hayes: I want to talk about Common Core for a second. (And he smiles a little smile, like “let’s do this silly thing, I’m going to ask a question, you’re going to sling baloney, it’ll be fun”). Are you surprised by how controversial Common Core (which he characterizes as “kind of an obscure issue in certain ways”) has become?

“Duncan: “It’s actually very simple. The goal’s to have high standards.” So, kids, the whole national consistency issue, the whole being able to compare kids in Idaho and Maine, the whole keeping everyone on the same page so mobile students will never get lost– that’s no longer the point.

“Duncan goes on to display how much he doesn’t understand about how this works. He talks about how, under NCLB, too many states dummied down standards. He says this was “to make politicians look good.” I’d be more inclined to say “to avoid punitive consequences for their schools.” If Arne had reached my conclusion (and really, given that he was in charge of a large school district at the time, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t reach my conclusion) then perhaps he wouldn’t have figured that the solution was to make the consequences of high stakes testing even more punitive than before.

“Insert story here of how schools lied to students about how ready they were for college. So brave governors decided to stop lying to children. “Let’s have true college and career ready standards for every single child.” As always I wonder why reaching that conclusion leads to a next step where one says, “Let’s hire a couple of guys who have no real education experience, either pedagogical or developmental, and have them whip something up.”

As Greene shows, this is vintage Arne. Adroitly changing the subject, mouthing high-minded platitudes, never accepting that parents have valid reasons to be upset by the administration’s unvarnished support for high-stakes testing, closing schools, and inviting entrepreneurs to cash in on the educationmarket. NCLB went wrong, he admits, but he never acknowledges that Race to the Top was no different philosophically from NCLB and far worse in actuality when judged by the whipping it has given to schools and educators.

Mercedes Schneider is reading the 600+ pages of the Senate bill drafted by Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Patti Murray. It is a tough job, and I am glad she has the patience to do it.


This is her second installment, and you will find in it a link to the first close reading of the bill, which went to page 136.


She picks up a few points she wants to add to her review of the first 136 pages, and she adds commentary on another 25 pages. Her pace has slowed down, either because she teaches high school English full-time, or because the tedium of reading legislative language is slowing her down. A few points she touches on that are important: 1) the bill allows public school choice, but does not require it; 2) the bill does not refer to “failing” schools (a favorite term of the reformers); 3) the bill reiterates the principle that federal funds must “supplement not supplant” local funding; 4) the bill again prohibits federal interference in local efforts to improve schools, another slap at Arne Duncan’s overreach.


You can be sure she will read the proposed law to the very end, and we will all be better informed. You can also be sure that most members of Congress will not read the legislation as closely as she does.

Vicki Cobb is a prolific writer of science books for children. She has written more than 85 nonfiction books. As a child, she attended the celebrated Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village, where experiential learning was valued. Today, she dedicates herself to educating children about science and the joy of learning. Imagine her surprise when she conducted a workshop and discovered that the children did not share her enthusiasm for school.


Here is her assessment of the legacy of today’s school reforms.


The other day I was doing a program for a group of 4th-6th graders at a local public library. I introduced myself to them by telling them how I had LOVED school so much when I was a kid that I basically recreate it for myself everyday as I write my books. The kids’ reaction to my confession was a unanimous, vociferous, vocal expression of how much they disliked school. I was startled. After all, I’ve told this to children many times before at school visits. Was this because the venue was not in school and they felt freer to express themselves? Or has something changed to make school more onerous? These were privileged kids from an affluent public school district. Could it be because they had just finished a month of standardized testing? What’s going on here?


This is just the latest piece of evidence that something is rotten in American education. It seems that many people in a position of power believe that education is too important to allow professional educators do their jobs because they have failed to produce a consistently excellent product of people who are college and career ready after twelve years of schooling. They believe the way to excellence is to first write a law decreeing “No Child Left Behind” or “All Children College and Career Ready” to set a policy, without consulting anyone who actually teaches children. And then to test, test, test, to see if these impossible standards have been met. Meanwhile, they are creating a population of quietly submissive students and teachers who narrow the curriculum to what they hope will be on the test while administrators are cutting art, music, physical education programs and librarians to pour more of their limited financial resources into test prep and test grading….


Let me take this opportunity to remind us that human beings, from the moment they appear on this earth, are born to learn. A baby is as smart as s/he will ever be. Through infancy every day is filled with wonder and discovery. And although there are hard lessons along the way, as learning progresses, so does mastery. We know from research that there are many different learning styles but eventually we all learn to walk and talk and think . As we get older, if we’re lucky, we discover a passion that drives us to master more skills and contribute to society. But the skill of high performance on a test, is not an essential skill. There are many other metrics for success — the number of patents held by Americans, for example. The current “reformers” for education are simply imposing ill-conceived laws of the state and federal governments on schools as if we were a dictatorship not a democracy.


Deep in my bones I know that I would not be creating science books for children if I had grown up in one of today’s repressive schools.







A reader comments on the just-released “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015″:





“The bill needed to eliminate mandatory annual tests and the last 12 years shows why. The claim that we needed these tests to figure out which kids are behind is preposterous. Same for demographic data – struggling classrooms need smaller class sizes, wraparound services and restoration of arts, not measuring and reporting to the Feds. It’s far enough in the rear view mirror to admit: NCLB was a total failure that made a generation hate school, narrowed curriculum and targeted teacher unions. It set the stage perfectly for rich vendor paydays, privatization and charter schools.


“Mission accomplished.”

A reader wrote to ask whether the Senate revision of No Child Left Behind would permit states to develop alternate curricula and assessments for students with disabilities, and whether the bill will eliminate Secretary Duncan’s mandate that only 1% of children with disabilities could be allowed alternate assessments.

My inside source on the Senate committee staff told me that the authors of the bill wanted to permit states to have more flexibility but the “disability community” insisted on the status quo. They want all children, except the 1% who are most severely disabled, to take exactly the same tests. He suggested that if there were disability groups and parents who thought differently and who wanted greater state and local flexibility, they should make their voices heard.

In New York, when the first Common Core tests were given, only 5% of children with disabilities reached proficient, as compared to 30% of children without disabilities.

Contact the staff of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and/or Senator Patti Murray of Washington State if you disagree with the lobbyists who want the stays quo.

In 2010, I visited with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at that time. Along with Richard Rothstein, we explained the damage that No Child Left Behind was doing to children and education. He responded that “the disability community” loves NCLB. We were baffled.

Ira Shor writes:

“Big winners are private charters b/c they are authorized to loot even more public school funds. Leaving annual testing in place makes Pearson second big winner b/c they can buy politicians and state/local DOE’s to keep testing in place. Third big winner is Hillary–this ridiculous renewed bill so muddies the waters that Hillary can slither past having to explain where she stands on the last 5yrs of destructive ed reform. Rest of us need to push opt-out relentlessly along with campaign against private looting of public funds. The private war on public education has accomplished massive disruption of education, so a fed attack led by Duncan no longer needed, went far to finance, legalize, and privilege the Eva school world, all that’s needed from Eva’s pt of v now is constant stream of tax revenues, constant financing of charter sites, and constant exemption from public oversight, all of which are in place. For us, time to plan next big moves to rescue and renovate public education.”

Many people ask, “What can I do to reduce the testing that is making my children’s lives miserable and ruining their love of learning?” This is a democracy. Call your elected representatives in Washington. FairTest recommends citizen action NOW to Reduce Testing Requirements:
National Day of Action Today -April 8
Overhaul ESEA/NCLB: Less Testing More Learning
What: Call your U.S. Senators and join the Twitter storm/Thunderclap. If we raise our voices together, we can persuade the Senate Education Committee to reduce testing requirements as it debates renewal of Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind.
When: April 8, 2015
Who: Testing Resistance and Reform Spring alliance, convened by FairTest, and including many national and state organizations.

Call your Senators: Take a few minutes today, April 8, to phone your U.S. senators in Washington, DC. Ask to speak to the staffer who works on education policy. If no one is available, leave your message with the person who answered the phone. Find the phone numbers at

Tell your Senators: Here is a model message. Feel free to use it, modify it, or say something entirely different.

Hello. I’m [your name], calling from [your town]. I’m calling to ask Senator [name] to support changes to No Child Left Behind that will promote a saner approach to public school testing. I urge [him/her] to support a switch to testing once each in elementary, middle and high school, and to remove high-stakes consequences from federally required standardized tests. Both these measures will help address the current over-emphasis on testing at the expense of learning.

If you have specific stories about problems with over-testing, please relate them. Personal stories are the most effective.
Twitterstorm: Today at 1:00 PM Eastern time, send a tweet, help build the storm. Here is an example. If you modify it, be sure to include #cutfederaltests and the link to getting your Senators’ numbers:

“Join FairTest, Testing Resistance 4/8 #CutFedTests. Call Senate Cut back tests, end high stakes.”
The link is to Senate phone numbers. The last ‘sentence’ is the basic message.
To tweet your Senators, find their Twitter handles at:

Email: Join the email campaign as well. To send a letter to your Senator, go to:

Peter Greene read the Alexander-Murray bill with care and finds reasons for hope. It slices away most of the ugly features of NCLB. It puts an end to Duncan’s reign as the national superintendent of schools. It transfers back to the states the responsibility for their public schools and tells Washington to butt out.

He was disappointed to find a giant Xmas tree for the charter industry, with three grant programs to help them expand.

“The third grant program is also awesome if you are a charter profiteer– the feds would like a grant program to help pay for the buildings that charters squat in. No word on whether Senators Alexander and Murray considered a bill to cut up charter operators food for them or hire federal agents to wipe the charter CEO’s chin when he’s drooling with glee…..”

“So, What Do We Think?

“All in all, this is a more pointed rebuke of the Obama administration’s ed farfegnugen than I might have expected, but while [it] still keeps those stupid, worthless Big Standardized Tests enshrined, it frees states to make their own peace with them (and that testing requirement might reduce the possibility that the test manufacturers would loose their lobbying dogs to oppose the bill– they can rest happy now because their payday is intact). Now, that will mean different things in different states– I’m pretty sure Andrew Cuomo will be a giant ass to education whether the feds are pushing him to or not.

“And while Common Core is all but dead, this certainly frees everyone up to slap it around some more. This bill wouldn’t end the ongoing education debate, but it would break it up into fifty little arguments and if that doesn’t do anything more than divide up the reformsters money and forces, that’s a good thing.

“Of course, we still have the onslaught of amendments and the bill from the House and the President’s desk to get past. And the enshrinement of the rapacious charter school industry is not good news. So this is by no means perfect.

“But most of all, a new ESEA completely chops the back-door lawmaking of USED waivers off at the knees. If Congress can actually pull this off, it will be a gamechanger. There’s much to hate about the new game, but there are some pieces of hope as well. Let’s just see what happens next.”

The following comment was written by a young man just returned from teaching in the Peace Corps. Responding to a request from the Network for Public Education, he wrote a letter to Congress about NCLB:




I would like to share the letter I wrote (at the urging of NPE) to my congressional Representative concerning H.R. 5:


This time last year I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, coming home from service as an English teacher in a Cameroonian public school. Shortly before I left Cameroon I attended a disciplinary hearing convened for the purpose of meting out punishment. I sat with other teachers in a ring at the edge of the principal’s office while students were shuffled in by grade level, given the chance to explain their infractions, then made to lie on their stomachs on the dusty floor while an administrator whipped them. It was against the law, but they did it anyway. This policy was intended to regulate student behavior, and it was shamefully successful. They followed an ideology of control and never have I seen such a passive group of students. My colleagues and the administrators managing us weren’t bad people–or even bad educators. I still marvel at their drive to impart knowledge, but their instructional model followed a paradigm that mirrored their discipline: students are, to lean upon a cliche, vessels to be filled, objects to be acted upon.


It may be hard for us to see, but their ideology is our ideology. By conventional standards I was a good student; in me the systems of reward and punishment accomplished their goals. My success, however, was bounded by its context. The social psychology research that claims traditional classroom practices limit student interest, reduce depth of thought, and discourage a challenge-seeking orientation resonate with my experience. When I reflect on my education I feel the deep tragedy of my untapped potential. Here was the refrain of the times: “Why would I put more effort into this? I already have an A.” I was lucky because many other students repeated its more destructive corollary: “Why would I put any effort in to this? I’m just going to get an F.” No matter what a student’s place on this artificial spectrum, reducing performance to an externally imposed measurement of a pseudo-objective standard constitutes control. When, later in my academic career, I did fail one class, I imagine the emotional pain I felt was a close cousin to the physical pain of my future Cameroonian students.


Whether or not there are legitimate uses for standards in today’s world, the current political environment has paired standards with a toxic accountability. There’s an or else. Pay teachers following our formula or we won’t send federal money your way. Raise your students’ scores to the level we say or we’ll give your school a failing grade. Do better or we’ll close it entirely. As a country our greatest shames have been perpetrated under contingency and duress. This is no different. My educational history has been filled with motivated teachers who didn’t require bribes or threats to seek self-improvement, who didn’t need standardized tests to gauge student proficiency.


If we want our students to learn to function in a democracy, why are our classrooms structured like dictatorships? Why are we pursuing a path that further alienates students from content by adding additional separation between teachers and curriculum? Why, if we expect students to learn independence, are we stripping it from educators?


Best Regards,


Jakob Gowell


B.A. English, Grinnell College 2011
RPCV Cameroon 2012-2014
Education Volunteer (TEFL)


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