Former President George W. Bush has emerged to defend one of his signature "accomplishments": No Child Left Behind. In an interview with Time's Andrew Rotherham, Bush heaps on the superlatives that no one else is applying to NCLB. He's "extremely proud." It's "one of the really positive things our Administration accomplished" and "it's time to celebrate excellence" on the law's 10th anniversary. With that, he has some words of advice for President Obama:
The President is going to have to be very firm in resisting the temptation to take the easy path. The President has to take the lead and say, Wait a minute, No Child Left Behind has worked. Let’s not weaken it.
Are you fucking kidding me? Even by Bush standards, the claim that No Child Left Behind has worked is shocking. Bush specifically cites "a noticeable change in achievement, particularly among minority groups," but between 1992 (10 years before passage of NCLB) and 2007 (five years after), the black-white achievement gap on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called "the nation's report card," narrowed in only 15 states for fourth grade math and just four states for eighth grade math. In reading, the fourth grade gap narrowed in just three states, and the eighth grade gap narrowed in none. Data on the Hispanic-white achievement gap is less complete, but in most states for which there is data, the gap remains essentially unchanged.
It's not just the racial gaps that are at issue, either. As Diane Ravitch, an education expert who at this point basically lives her life doing penance for having supported NCLB at the time it was passed, wrote in 2010, rounded education has in many schools been abandoned for test preparation focusing on specific tests in narrow subject areas (generally just math and reading, as if those are the only components of an education). Yet:
Despite the time and money invested in testing, scores on NAEP have increased slowly or not at all. In mathematics the rate of improvement was greater before NCLB was passed. In reading there have been gains in fourth grade, but the national scores for eighth graders were essentially the same in 2009 as they were in 1998.
The sad fact is that President Obama's education funding policy, Race to the Top, is no better than No Child Left Behind. It, too, is founded on an obsession with forms of testing and measurement that have not been proven effective. It has accelerated the growth of often profit-driven charter schools. In short, it keeps many of the worst features of NCLB while adding in some equally bad ones.
But if there's someone Obama should not listen to on education, it's the president who set us down this disastrous path to begin with. So, President Obama: You're going to have to be very firm in resisting the temptation to take the easy path. You have to take the lead and say, Wait a minute, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have not worked. Let’s scrap them and start over.