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NCLB Fan Turns Critic With New Book

ravitch_customWhen someone who once was so enthusiastic about No Child Left Behind that she opined we should be thanking George W Bush and Congress for passing it writes a book five years later detailing its faults, it’s safe to say you’ve got a deeply unpopular program on your hands.

That’s exactly what Diane Ravitch has done. A research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, she’s written a book called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” in which she details what she sees as the law’s failings.

Much of what she says echoes what critics have been saying for years — that it relies too much on standardized testing, for one, and that expecting schools to compete like businesses do misapprehends the fundamental nature of how schools are meant to operate.

She makes a couple other interesting points as well, which I have heard come up in discussion but educators themselves don’t like to talk about. For one, she opines that the culture of high stakes testing leads to a “dumbing down” of each state’s test, and sometimes to outright cheating. As evidence, she points to the fact that while states may report very high levels of subject-area proficiency based on the state’s own educational assessment test, those same states have only 25 to 30 percent of students score as proficient in those same subjects on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

She also thinks the current system is upside down, with states charged with disseminating information on best practices and setting their own standards, while the federal government administers sanctions and prescribes remedies. Instead, it should be the other way around, with the federal government setting standards and sharing information while the states figure out what remedies will work best in their local communities.

The Obama admninstration recently released a set of sweeping changes to NCLB, including eliminating the “adequate yearly progress” requirement which can label a school as failing if even one subgroup of students doesn’t perform well on a test.

If you are a parent of kids in school, how do you feel about NCLB? If you are an educator, what are your thoughts?

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