Checker Finn had a think-piece in Sunday’s Washington Post on the “5 Myths About No Child Left Behind,” which is facing an uncertain fate—or at least an uncertain timetable—as it awaits reauthorization this year. Finn points out that NCLB isn’t compulsory since states can opt out, and is merely “another incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965,” part of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives. He dismisses the notion that NCLB in underfunded, and is spot-on in asserting that “instead of demanding more money for No Child Left Behind, critics should ask why states and local communities get such dismal returns on the half-trillion dollars, or nearly $10,000 per student, that they already spend on primary and secondary education every year.”
Finn is on shakier ground labeling as myth that the standardized testing required by No Child Left Behind gets in the way of real learning. “If the test is an honest measure of a solid curriculum,” he writes, “then teaching kids the skills and knowledge they need to pass it is honorable work.” And “if” a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bounce its butt on the ground. As E.D. Hirsch, Jr., has written recently, state standards are notoriously vague and content-free. Finn and Fordham have long done excellent work demonstrating the glaring inconsistencies in standards from state to state.
One can argue ad nauseum about whether the legislation or its feckless implementation are to blame, but without meaningful standards—content standards, not process standards—upon which to base tests, we’re merely spinning our wheels.
Update: Good update on NCLB, the campaign and the disappointments of both in the Economist.