The CATO Institutes Andrew J. Coulson has been engaging op-ed debate with NCLB architect Sandy Kress, a former member of the Bush administration. Within Coulson’s piece, he makes the point (and an important one we should all be making) that the NAEP is the assessment everyone should be using and not individual state tests. These measure long-term trends (LTTs) of students near the end of high school and are the “best gauge we have of the performance of the nation’s public schools over time.”
Coulson, who’s think tank he works for is not averse to market-based solutions in education, says that NCLB does not advance the kind of market-based reforms that work. He writes:
The state tests NCLB focuses on are all but worthless for comparing states to one another or for determining trends over time, so the law tells us considerably less than we could already discover from the NAEP. NCLB has, however, been an epic, expensive distraction, pulling the efforts of countless activists, policymakers and educators away from the market reforms that work and consuming their time arguing about the details of a policy that never had a sound research base to support it and still does not. Adding insult to injury, NCLB exacerbated the unconstitutional overreach of its earlier form, the ESEA. If NCLB worked better and more efficiently than alternative policies, and had no deleterious side effects, I would be all for amending the Constitution to allow it. It doesn’t.
So no, NCLB is not an aid to meaningful reform. It is a barrier. The sooner we get over it, the better.
Coulson instructively gives a history lesson on the origin of NCLB. It spawned from ESEA – 1965 legislation which was part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. For the first time, federal dollars were sent to public schools.
There were no strings attached originally. What a long way we’ve come from there. Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan is not threatening states that he will withhold these funds if they do not comply with NCLB.
CATO’s favoritism for market-based reforms apparently doesn’t blind them to the clear absurdity of NCLB.