Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Challenge

No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Bottom
Dan Lips,

As Congress prepares to decide the future of No Child Left Behind, it seems everyone has become an expert on the law, including Comedy Central's Steven Colbert. On a recent episode of The Colbert Report, Mr. Colbert shared his thoughts on the landmark federal education law, highlighting one of its central problems - how No Child Left Behind is causing states to dumbdown state standards.

Colbert picked on Mississippi to demonstrate the problem. "Only 18 percent of fourth graders in Mississippi passed the standardized national (NAEP) reading test," Colbert explained. "Fortunately, it's the state reading test that counts. And 89 percent of Mississippi fourth graders passed the state test. You see, folks, with one deft move Mississippi is a shining example of how easy it is to succeed...if you simply redefine 'success' as 'below whatever you're currently achieving.'"


This has led states to simply lower the bar, as humorously articulated by Mr. Colbert: "Well, that sounds hard. So here's what I suggest: Instead of passing the test, just have kids pass a test.... Eventually, we'll reach a point when 'math proficiency' means, 'you move when poked with a stick,' and 'reading proficiency' means, 'your breath will fog a mirror'."


Mr. Colbert's jokes aside, this isn't a laughing matter. No Child Left Behind was intended to strengthen accountability and transparency in public education, but it is actually having the opposite effect. The "race to the bottom" is threatening to erode real transparency about academic performance. Parents and taxpayers soon may not be able to judge whether their children are learning and whether their public schools are working.

(If you've seen this lots of times already, I apologize. It aired during the last days of school and The Colbert Report episodes collected dust on TiVo... I hate when that happens. I've posted anyway because it's just too good not to.)

No comments: