The disappointing outcomes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is widely agreed upon by researchers, politicians, and educators. And really, it isn't surprising. No Child Left Behind has whittled the focus of U.S. education down to the ability of teachers to get students to achieve at some level on math and reading multiple choice tests. U.S. schools are not on target to be "proficient" by 2014, as was the goal of the policy. In fact, it is predicted that 100% of schools will fail to meet this goal, because no school will be able to get 100% of its students proficient, which was why many states applied for the restrictive NCLB waivers offered by the Obama administration. But, what if all the schools had met the goals of NCLB? Would the U.S. public think public education was doing a good job? Probably not.
NCLB and its successors such as Race to the Top and most recently the Common Core Standards don't address what both citizens and businesses repeatedly state public education should. In a 2013 gallup poll, Americans identified soft skills such as collaboration, character building, and community involvement as important. This is not to say the basics shouldn't be touch but Americans want students to graduate with the skills to be successful members of the community. Read just about any job listing and you know that companies are looking for "team players" who are self-motivated and can collaborate with others. Often one also finds the "strong inter-personal skills" as a requirement for the job listing. But, funding for schools is linked to student performance on assessments and assessments don't test these soft skills. Even the performance assessments that are being rolled out to assess the common core don't address these skills. So, teaching is focused first on what is on the tests. Soft-skills may or may not happen.
So, what's new? Well, really nothing except to say that we spend billions of dollars and thousand of teacher and administrator hours to roll out these new policies with certainly little if any progress. Instead, what if we spent those dollars on policies that there is evidence can improve outcomes such as prenatal care, preschool, and after school programs that address the issues of income equality that are widespread throughout the United States.