I have been watching the renewed hostilities between Eduwonk and Eduwonkette this week over the issue of No Child Left Behind’s impact on curriculum. I feel honor-bound to weigh in, since I inadvertently started the fight. A few thoughts on their posts:
The issue of whether testing has crowded science and social studies off the curriculum is beyond dispute, and I’m not swayed by the argument that if 44% of schools report a narrowing of the curriculum under NCLB, then the legislation is not the culprit, since 56% report no deleterious impact. If 44% of patients reported an adverse reaction to a medication, it would be off the shelves before the sun set. So it’s a problem.
Eduwonk is absolutely correct, however, in noting that good schools focus on curriculum and instruction. “While low-capacity schools may have spent time on social studies pre-NCLB,” he writes, “it’s a safe bet that many of them were not teaching it very well.” But the opposite is also true: most good schools were good schools without any external accountability measures whatsoever, so that’s not where our focus belongs. If the functional structures are in place — strong leadership, good teachers, active oversight, engaged parents who are informed consumers of education, etc. — there are multiple levels of quality control to assure good outcomes. NCLB is all about making bad schools act more like good ones in the absence of those self-policing mechanisms.