from The Columbus Dispatch - "Federal education initiative is a failure"



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Thursday, November 10, 2005

By William L. Bainbridge

Federal education initiative is a failure

Hope is dwindling that the No Child Left Behind law is going to improve studentsí performance. The first respected and tangible testing numbers available since the implementation of the law, enacted by "DC-knows-best" politicians of both major parties, renders nothing for No Child supporters to claim as a victory.

The numbers come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which compares data from states and various student demographic groups. The results documented in two recent reports, The Nationís Report Card: Reading 2005 and The Nationís Report Card: Mathematics 2005, indicate that:

  • Math performance did not increase at a faster rate than in the previous decade.
  • Reading performance declined significantly at grade 8, the critical grade when many students drop out of school, and scores were about the same for grade 4 as in 2002.
  • Only half of the students read study passages fluently. Scores for many students suggest they still struggle with basic skills.
  • Reading performance for black and Hispanic students has been flat since 2000.
  • Math performance for black and Hispanic students has not continued to increase at the previous rate.
While the No Child law had a stated objective to give "attention on the civil right of every young person to have a good education" by "closing the achievement gap" of higher scores for Asian and European American than for African and Hispanic American students, there was only modest progress even claimed. Any gains in this critical area are more than offset by the rapidly accelerating dropout rate in urban schools. The real gap remains as wide as it was in the early 1990ís.

Moreover, the nationís parents seem to have different expectations than policymakers and lawmakers regarding what it means to hold school systems accountable for student success.

The public continues to support the concept of accountability measures, but parents have difficulty understanding the constantly changing rhetoric surrounding the No Child law. More and more parents and state legislators are beginning to grasp how punitive No Child can be for their schools. The Public Agenda Foundation, for example notes that the more familiar parents and citizens become with the No Child law, the more concerned and wary they become of its one-size-fits-all accountability measure.

Evidence of rapidly declining parental support for the law can be found in a recent report by the Midcontinent Research for Education and Learning Organization. In an ongoing project to discover what parents and other community members think education accountability means, respondents:

  • Seemed to believe that, in addition to schools, parents, community members and students should be held accountable for student success.
  • Accepted standardized tests as a means of measuring student progress, but believed that other means should also be included.
  • Showed resistance, especially in rural areas, to imposed standards.
  • Lacked faith in the quality of statewide tests.
And we now have evidence from the government itself that the "drilland-kill curriculum" associated with high-stakes testing has not improved pubic education. The fact is that math scores were on the rise and reading scores were flat before the No Child law. After it, math scores are up slightly and reading scores remain flat, netting virtually no progress.

Itís time for the governments at all levels to abandon the failed test-and-punish quick fix, get on with the hard work of identifying the causes of student achievement problems, and then address them. If the federal government should have any role in education, which is doubtful, it might be to fund research and development of more effective teaching strategies and learning systems that better meet the goal of improved academic achievement for all children.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president on a pledge that if elected, he would seek to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Perhaps it is time to "win one for the Gipper" by fulfilling his wish.


is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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