Critics say administration’s blueprint is too similar to NCLB

“…In the present period, with extensive layoffs of teachers and other school employees looming, it makes no sense to cut (in real, inflation-adjusted terms) formula-driven funds in order to reward states that innovate in ways that suit the administration’s policy preferences. A full employment program for grant-writers is no substitute for stable employment for educators. And what are states that don’t win the competitive grants, and thus have no way to avoid the layoffs, to do?” he wrote.

A change from NCLB?

Ravitch and Rothstein both contend that too many NCLB-esque policies remain in the blueprint’s present form.

“My concern is that the blueprint continues to be rooted in NCLB’s assumptions about testing and accountability as the levers for federal reforms, and it continues to assume, as NCLB did, that Congress can legislate and mandate how to reform schools that have low test scores,” Ravitch wrote in her eMail message.

“In essence, the NCLB template has been modified, but is still in place. Every student will still take annual tests of reading and math; now schools will be ranked into performance levels. There will be bonuses for those that make gains and severe punishments for those that all into the bottom 5 [percent]. I worry about the bottom 5 [percent], some 5,000 schools.”

One of the most troubling and “widely ridiculed” components of NCLB was its goal that all students become proficient in academic standards by 2014, Rothstein wrote in his examination of the blueprint.

Rothstein asserts that not only was the goal ridiculed, it “did great harm to public education” because it:

  • “Created incentives for educators to lie to the public and claim that they could achieve something that they knew was unachievable.
  • “Created well-known incentives to ‘define down’ proficiency, to make it possible for more students to pass themselves off as proficient.
  • “Engendered a culture of cynicism in public education, and … discredited public education in the broader community, as it became apparent that school leaders could not deliver what they were promising.”

Yet ED’s goal that all students be college- and career-ready by 2020 “is just as fanciful as the goal of all students proficient by 2014,” Rothstein wrote.

“Today, perhaps 20 percent of all youth graduate [from] high school fully prepared for academic college. It should certainly be higher. Aspiring to make it higher is a worthy ambition. But basing policy on a promise, or even an expectation, that we will quintuple this rate in a mere decade is laughable.”

The majority of schools serving disadvantaged children will “be in danger of sanctions for failing to make progress towards this goal,” and schools in middle-class neighborhoods also will be required to report regularly on their progress.

“Defenders of this absurd goal aver that it is inspiring to have an aspirational goal, even if it cannot be met. This is true only if the goal is within reach, albeit with great effort. If the goal is entirely out of reach, then holding it up as an aspiration is corrupting,” he wrote.

The administration’s education goals still mimic some of the goals outlined in NCLB, Ravitch said.

The blueprint is concerning because of “its failure to break free of the ‘measure and punish’ mentality embedded in NCLB,” she said.

“Our nation needs to improve its education system dramatically. We should not waste another eight years tied to the belief that we can test our way to excellence. We can’t, and we won’t.”

Test scores vs. growth

The blueprint’s intent to measure progress not only by a test score, but also by student academic growth and graduation rates, presents a move away from much-criticized high-stakes testing—but measuring student growth is not necessarily cut and dry, some say.

Ravitch said it’s better to measure growth rates—which are also represented by test scores, she noted—but doing so requires that students be tested twice a year; once in September when school opens and again in May or June when the school year ends. This ensures that student progress is measured over the course of an academic year.

“Of course, it is worth wondering how U.S. education got into this situation, wherein the federal Department of Education arrogates to itself the power to control curriculum, instruction, testing, and measures of quality,” she said.

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Laura Ascione

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