In 2001, the No Child Left Behind act flew through the House and Senate to become America's most recent federal education reform. In short, the act bolsters outcome-based education - set standards high and enforce accountability, and students will eventually improve. On the other hand, with standardized testing being used to determine improvement (improvement that's tied to funding), we risk teachers "teaching to the test". While the debate over NCLB and the theories surrounding it continue to be hotly debated, does any of it even matter?
Could it be that the administration knowingly signed sweeping but impossible reform in an effort to expose the shortcomings of public education, dishearten citizens and push them toward the goal of privatization?There was always something slightly insane about No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ambitious education law often described as the Bush administration's signature domestic achievement. For one thing, in the view of many educators, the law's 2014 goal — which calls for all public school students in grades 4 through 8 to be achieving on grade level in reading and math — is something no educational system anywhere on earth has ever accomplished. Even more unrealistic: every kid (except for 3% with serious handicaps or other issues) is supposed to be achieving on grade level every year, climbing in lockstep up an ever more challenging ladder. This flies in the face of all sorts of research showing that children start off in different places academically and grow at different rates.
Add to the mix the fact that much of the promised funding failed to materialize and many early critics insisted that No Child Left Behind was nothing more than a cynical plan to destroy American faith in public education and open the way to vouchers and school choice.
Now a former official in Bush's Education department is giving at least some support to that notion. Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."
It's possible. But I'm not even sure if that matters, either. If we are headed toward a situation that brings the question of privatization front-and-center, we ought to be discussing it now.
Personally, I'm all for giving various forms of privatization a try to see which works best. What do you think? Please see the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education for clarification on what privatization involves and the pros and cons of privatized institutions.