This weekend I had an opportunity to read the first half of Diane Ravitch’s excellent new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” I will be writing at much greater length in upcoming weeks about the book, the research it presents, and the implications for us as educators, parents, and citizens. This evening I’d like to share the following paragraph from page 103, in the chapter titled, “NCLB.” The bolding in the quotation below is my own.
The goal set by Congress [in NCLB] of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is an aspiration; it is akin to a declaration of belief. Yes, we do believe that all children can learn and should learn. But as a goal, it is utterly out of reach. No one truly expects that all students will be proficient by the year 2014, although NCLB’s most fervent supporters often claimed that it was feasible. Such a goal has never been reached by any state or nation. In their book about NCLB, Finn and Hess acknowledge that no educator believes this goal is attainable; they write, “Only politicians promise such things.” The law, they say, is comparable to Congress declaring “that every last molecule of water or air pollution would vanish by 2014, or that all American cities would be crime-free by that date.” I would add that there is an important difference. If pollution dos not utterly vanish, or if all cities are not crime-free, no public official will be punished. No state or municipal environmental protection agencies will be shuttered, no police officers will be reprimanded or fired, no police department will be handed over to private managers. But if all students are not on track to be proficient by 2014, then schools will be closed, teachers will be fired, principals will lose their jobs, and some– perhaps many– public schools will be privatized. All because they were not able to achieve the impossible.
The picture Ravitch paints in the first half of her book is sobering, tragic, maddening, and persuasive. It is remarkable so many intelligent people have permitted a law which has clearly articulated, unattainable goals to not only become the law of the land, but remain the law of the land. I am thankful to Ravitch for her articulate exposition of the tragedy which continues to unfold politically in U.S. education, and look forward to playing a constructive role in the social action campaign which will turn the tide.
See my post from February 2010, “Will Race to the Top Hurt Kids and Make Charter School Entrepreneurs Rich?” for more links and background about these issues. If you haven’t already, also be sure to read Doug Noon’s April 2010 post, “We Are In Deep Doo Doo.” Indeed we are.
H/T to my mom for giving me a copy of Ravitch’s book.
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