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Volume IV, Number 8, September, 2006

Killing NCLB in 2007
17 Reasons Why NCLB Must Go

By Jamie McKenzie
About Author

Congress must decide in 2007 whether to reauthorize NCLB/Helter-Skelter or let it die and replace it with a new law that makes sense.

The law is so badly flawed, it cannot be fixed. It is a wreck. It is un-American in its basic principles, relying upon fear, intimidation, threats and punishments in ways that would make Stalin happy. NCLB is the very kind of big government "state planning" that we were taught would be the downfall of the Soviets.

We need a new law with a focus on capacity building and encouragement rather than testing, fear and punishment.

Recent polls show growing public disillusionment with regard to NCLB's claims and promises.

See The 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools at

A National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) study of the experiences and perceptions of more than 2,000 literacy educators (April 2006) shows that among these teachers charged with implementing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 76% believe that the Act has had at least a somewhat negative influence on teaching and learning in English/reading classrooms.

Pure Evil?

The Ed Secretary's recent comparison of NCLB to Ivory Soap showed a remarkable ignorance of the damage this program is doing to children, especially to disadvantaged children of color - the very children who were meant to benefit from the law.

Simple-minded right wing ideologues might be happy that 30% of the schools in Jeb Bush's state of Florida are judged failing by NCLB, but most of the world views these failures as remote from being good news or progress. Unless your purpose is to destroy the public system, NCLB ends up looking more like pure evil than Ivory Soap.

As mentioned above, the recent Gallup Poll reports that a majority doubts that NCLB has done any good. It is a policy lunge that must be reversed by the new Congress to be elected in November. Like Iraq and Katrina, NCLB is an example of monumental governmental failure - a set of policies and initiatives that have worsened the quality of life and damaged the prospects of many.

Seventeen NCLB Failures (Click below to read detail and evidence.)

  1. Disappointing Results
  2. Failing Schools
  3. Lack of Quality Teachers
  4. Lowering of Standards
  5. Narrowing of Curriculum
  6. Ignoring of Children
  7. Fear, Shame and Threats
  8. Bad Tests
  9. Fake Results
  10. Educational Triage
  11. Factory Style Learning
  12. Loss of Best Teachers
  13. Loss of Future Teachers
  14. Loss of Morale
  15. Drop Outs and Push Outs
  16. Reduction in Time for Learning
  17. Stagnation

1. Disappointing Results

The chief indicators of educational progress in the land - the NAEP Tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress) have remained stagnant since NAEPs heavy handed policies went into practice in 2002. Considering the claims made, the results are "full of sound and fury signifying nothing." Note "Flatline NAEP Scores show failure of test-driven school reform. NCLB has NOT improved academic performance."

2. Failing Schools

One of NCLB/Helter-Skelter's main effects has been the labeling of thousands of schools as failures even though some of those schools have made admirable progress under trying circumstances and have been judged favorably under state standards. The burden of these failures and the shaming strategy has fallen most heavily on the very children and neighborhoods NCLB was claimed to assist.

Note Bill Kaczor's AP article, "Florida lags in No Child Left Behind; Jeb wants law changed," August 19, 2006

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Jacksonville's George Washington Carver Elementary is a B school in the state's eyes and barely missed getting an A this year.
Yet, Carver, which once got D's and F's, still is considered a failing school under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which was adopted in 2001.
It is one of 2,278 Florida schools - 71 percent of the total - that have failed to make the adequate yearly progress, or AYP, required by No Child Left Behind in 2006. That's in sharp contrast to the state's report card that this year gave an A or B to three of every four Florida schools.

3. Lack of Quality Teachers

Although NCLB requires that all states fill all classrooms with qualified teachers, no state has met that standard yet according to a report issued by the Ed. Department:

No State Will Meet 'Highly Qualified' Requirements 
The U.S. Department of Education has announced that no state will meet a requirement under the so-called No Child Left Behind law that calls for 100 percent of teachers in core subjects to be "highly qualified" by the end of the current school year.
As Deadline Looms, Report Says States Showing Little Progress in Addressing Teacher Quality

Education Week July 6, 2006

At times it seems the architects of NCLB were engaged in wishful thinking, believing that proclamation and accomplishment were one and the same. As is all too often true of zealots, the very strength of their convictions can blind them to crucial realities. Given the national shortage of qualified teachers, it is hardly surprising that it is difficult to find teachers willing to work under difficult conditions. Once again, it is the poor and disadvantaged populations who end up suffering most from this NCLB failure.

4. Lowering of Standards

NCLB has made shame and punishment such a condition of life for schools that many states have been "gaming the system" by adopting easier tests and lowering standards. They create the false impression of educational progress - one unsubstantiated by testing of their students on a demanding set of tests such as NAEP.

Note: "Gaming the System," June, 2006, No Child Left.

5. Narrowing of Curriculum

Because NCLB initially looks at just the reading and math scores of schools, schools at risk have taken to handing out double doses of math and reading while eliminating other types of learning that go untested and seem little valued. The notion of "the whole child" has been sacrificed as time previously devoted to social studies, science, art and music is often switched over to the basic skills.

Note New York Times article, "Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math."

Published: March 26, 2006
By Sam Dillon in the New York Times.

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

6. Ignoring of Children

In direct conflict with NCLB's professed goals, Ed Department officials conspired with some state officials to allow unconscionably large group sizes to apply before a sub category of student might be counted in judging AYP. Those states that set high numbers thereby allowed their affluent and suburban schools to ignore the plight of their disadvantaged and minority students. According to a story from the AP, nearly two million minority students went uncounted because of this collusion.

Note "NCLB Loopholes" in April, 2006 No Child Left.

Others articles:

Schools skirt 'No Child Left Behind' rule
April 17, 2006
Test scores of 1.9 million pupils, mostly minorities, are excluded
Frank Bass, Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Ben Feller
The Associated Press
States Omitting Minorities' Test Scores
Frank Bass, Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Ben Feller
The Associated Press
2 million scores ignored in ‘No Child’ loophole
AP: With help of states, U.S. government, schools duck potential penalties
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings on the No Child Left Behind Act
AP interview in which she tries to explain away her Department's terrible decisions.
Local school officials say No Child Left Behind law is ineffective, unfair
By: SETH BROMLEY, Staff Writer, Woonsocket Call

7. Fear, Shame and Threats

NCLB is quick to label schools and programs as failures when subgroups do not make AYP. Once labelled, a school may suffer extreme punishments as children and families are allowed to transfer elsewhere and the school staff may be shifted around or fired. While conservatives have been unable to put into place their dream of privatization, lurking behind the blame and shame is the hope that failing the public schools will set the stage for a free market approach.

Note this article from Bloomberg "Bush's `No Child' Goals Aren't Met by Quarter of U.S. Schools."

March 28 2006 -- More than a quarter of U.S. schools are failing under terms of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, according to preliminary state-by-state statistics reported to the U.S. Education Department.

At least 24,470 U.S. public schools, or 27 percent of the national total, didn't meet the federal requirement for ``annual yearly progress'' in 2004-2005. The percentage of failing schools rose by one point from the previous school year. Under the 2002 law, schools that don't make sufficient academic progress face penalties including the eventual replacement of their administrators and teachers.

8. Bad Tests

The sudden national obsession with high stakes testing combined with the Ed Department's curious insistence upon annual testing has led to a dilution of test quality as states have opted for easy and inexpensive tests that measure less challenging aspects of performance and as testing companies have found their product development resources severely strained.

Note: "Standardized Tests Face a Crisis Over Standards"

Published: March 22, 2006
By Michael Winerip in the New York Times.

Pressure to test all students has led to a series of serious problems with the quality of the tests being administered and the kinds of learning goals measured. Costs have dictated lowered standards in many places.

9. Fake Results

NCLB has created enormous pressure to achieve the appearance of progress but has done nothing to guard against educational fraud so that schools and states have engaged in an array of practices that range from actual cheating to gaming the system in ways that make students appear more proficient than they really are.

On cheating, note: "TAKS rates fall at probed schools - 17 Houston campuses accused of cheating see larger drop than district"

AP Article: March 19, 2005

Nearly all of the Houston elementary schools being investigated for possible cheating on the state's standardized achievement test produced sharply weaker exam results this year.

Passing rates at all but one of the 18 schools under scrutiny dropped at a greater rate than the overall Houston school's passing rate on the third-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, reading exam.

On gaming the system note: "Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S."

Published: November 26, 2005
By Sam Dillon in the New York Times.
Some state claims of proficiency do not stand up to proficiency levels in the NAEP tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress), raising questions about the validity of the NCLB effort.

10. Educational Triage

In many schools, NCLB has created so much pressure for rising test scores that staff will focus efforts on a special segment of students closest to the passing line while abandoning those at the top and the bottom.

Note: "From Classroom to Emergency Room: Educational Triage in American Schools." by Jennifer Booher-Jennings.

This is a story of how systemic incentives in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) lead educators to adopt a series of educational triage practices, practices that in many ways undermine equity. By educational triage, I refer to the process through which teachers divide students into three groups - safe cases, suitable cases for treatment, and hopeless cases - and ration resources to those students most likely to improve the school's scores.

11. Factory Style Learning

Children are not hamburger patties passing through a factory style assembly line, being cooked and flipped and slathered with sauce, but the prevalent mode of instruction built into many of the so-called approved learning programs emphasizes heavily scripted, mind-numbing kinds of learning activities.

Note: "Children are Not Hamburgers."

The prevailing model for school improvement imposed by Washington these days is fast food education. We have leaders and self-styled reformers who see schools as assembly lines and deep fat fryers. Their response to educational distress?

  • Standardize everything.
  • Bring in the stop watches.
  • Get the routines straight.
  • Teach by recipe.
  • Follow the script.
  • Flip the burgers.
  • Stamp out anything that seems unique, special or magical.

12. Loss of Best Teachers

In one of the great uncovered news stories of this decade, tens of thousands of good teachers are dropping out or retiring early to avoid the demoralizing impact of NCLB/Helter-Skelter. A decade of teacher and school bashing creates serious morale problems when combined with the standardization of teaching methods that effectively de-skills teachers and treats them like factory operatives rather than professional decision-makers. They go quietly into the good night while the press covers other stories. It is tragic, their loss, but it goes unmentioned and unnoticed.

13. Loss of Future Teachers

In a related uncovered news story, tens of thousands of potential teachers are shifting career goals to other professions as they hear horror stories emerging from schools across the land. Instead of encouraging and recruiting new teachers by making the teaching profession seem desirable and highly regarded, the architects of NCLB have done the opposite, treating teachers with disdain and blaming all our educational problems on them. The loss to the nation is tragic but again, they go quietly into the good night while the press covers other stories. It is tragic, their loss, but it goes unmentioned and unnoticed.

14. Loss of Morale

With its emphasis on simple-minded threats, punishments and accountability, it is apparent that the architects of NCLB cared very little about its impact on teacher morale, and there is little being done to improve it. Unfortunately, NCLB is doing great damage to morale, as evidenced by various surveys of teacher attitude.

Ironically, teacher morale is so discounted at this stage of educational history that the strongest research on teacher retention was conducted in the previous decade and century. There have been so few studies of teacher morale and retention in this century, that one might suppose it were no longer an issue. But failure to collect data is just a close ally of denial (or concealment). The government chooses to shine the spotlight on those aspects of life that fit the current agenda and ignore aspects and data that might reflect badly on that agenda.

Note: Survey of IRA members showed support for basic premises of NCLB, but concern about implementation:

More than three out of four respondents (78.2%) disagreed with the statement that teacher morale has improved as a result of NCLB.

It should be noted that ERIC was reorganized by the Bush administration in ways that may have changed what gets reported. The few articles reported in ERIC regarding teacher morale in 2005 and 2006 were not really research studies.

15. Drop Outs and Push Outs

The pressure to create good scores also rewards schools that can shove students out the door. Weak students make schools look bad. Scores go up when weak students drop out of school. NCLB should be renamed "No Child Left in School."

Time Magazine called the USA a "Dropout Nation" in April 17, 2006. Article

16. Reduction in Time for Learning

It stands to reason that improvements in learning are related to time on task. Sadly, NCLB distracts teachers and students from their real work as teaching to tests becomes an obsession and a priority . Test preparation displaces instruction. Students spend less time learning and less time improving. Billed as reform, NCLB is actually retreat.

17. Stagnation

In most respects, educational progress has ceased during this NCLB decade. Rather than extension, amplification and enhancement, this decade has been characterized by retrenchment and retreat. The best thinking and the best thinkers have been ignored. These are educational Dark Ages.

In a decade offering exciting social and economic prospects, NCLB has locked American schools in an Iron Maiden or chastity belt. At the very time we should be exploring human potential, we have lowered standards, killed innovation, stifled creativity and lost ground. The best thinkers and best thoughts have been stilled while the merchants of mediocrity have been given the stage and the joystick. The wrong people are calling the shots.

© 2006, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.