John M. EgerHuffington Post

Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University

Posted: Posted: 05/16/11

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, has made it no secret he thinks the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) is a major impediment to school reform.

Last March the incoming Republican Chair of the Education Committee in Congress, John Kline (R-Minn.), seemed to agree. “Although we (Duncan) may not always see eye to eye,” Kline said in the hearing, “you and I share a belief that the current system is broken and in desperate need of repair.”

Also known as “The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it was first enacted April 11, 1965 as a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and has been the most far-reaching federal legislation affecting education ever passed by Congress. Under President George W. Bush ESEA became known as NCLB and supported what it called standards-based education reform, based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.

In practice however, it tied all teachers to a test of competency in math and science thus forcing teachers to abandon other subjects on the curriculum of shuffling them into second place. If a school doesn’t score well, they not only went to the doghouse they might get closed down.

According to major study first reported in Education Week Magazine, “Teaching has undergone fundamental changes in the four years since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new national study.”

Conducted by the Center for Education Policy, the study found that “schools have more closely aligned instruction with state academic standards and assessments, and both principals and teachers are making greater use of test data to address students’ individual needs.”

Further, that “many schools have also become more prescriptive about what and how teachers are supposed to teach,” (narrowed their curriculum offerings), and “cut back on teaching some subjects in order to target math and reading, which are the focus of testing under NCLB. Thirty-three percent of districts reported reducing time for social studies, while 29 percent cut time for science and 22 percent scaled back arts and music,” EdWeek reports.

Now all that may change.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former Education Secretary, pledged cooperation with Democrats; and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Chair of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions wants something reported out of committee soon. Both the House and Senate seem to be working together on a revised bill. It almost sounds too good to be true but education is everybody’s issue, every citizen’s concern.

It is probably not a silver bullet. We still need to rethink the curriculum in light of globalization, technology and the need for creativity and innovation in the workplace. We still need to ask how kids learn in light of all we have learned in the last 20 years about the brain. We still need to rethink what an education is, and what it means in society as well as the economy.

And we still need to establish the role and responsibility of the body politic to fund public education but we may finally be back on track as a nation.

George Will recently interviewed Rep. Kline and asked what do teachers in his district say about NCLB. “They hate it,” he said. There is “a growing consensus,” he said, that “NCLB is failing and needs to be corrected.” Soon.