Like a Bald Man Trying to Split Hairs

On December 4, this announcement was sent out from Arne Duncan at the Department of Education:

“If you’re like me, you probably dread an overdue notice, whether it’s for registering your car or returning a library book. For nearly a decade, our national K-12 education law has been overdue for revision, and parents, teachers and students across the country have made it clear that it is time for a reboot.

“Over that period of time, America’s fourth graders became today’s high school seniors—ready to graduate and embrace a bright future. The students who come behind them deserve a better law focused on one clear goal of fully preparing them for success in college and future careers.

“Although well-intended, the No Child Left Behind Act—the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—has long been broken. We can no longer afford that law’s one-size-fits-all approach, uneven standards, and low expectations for our educational system. That’s why, early on, President Obama and I joined educators and families calling on Congress to fix its flaws in this outdated law.

“When Congress didn’t act, we did—providing relief from the most onerous elements of the law for states and school districts willing to embrace reform.

“But yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives finally answered the overdue notice and took action to revise and replace No Child Left Behind. This bipartisan plan—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—is good news for our nation’s schools. It is a compromise that builds on the work already underway in states to raise expectations for students and to help them graduate college and career-ready. The bill reflects many of the priorities we’ve put forward over the last six and a half years.”

The announcement was accompanied by this timeline:

DoE Fix to NCLB Timeline

So, if you took this all at face value, you might assume that the Obam administration and, more narrowly, the Department of Education under Arne Duncan have been pushing back against No Child Left Behind since the administration took office in 2009.

In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Arne Duncan has done more to promote the key elements of the Far-Right “reform” of public education than anyone might have expected from a Democratic administration—in fact, than one might have expected from even most Republican administrations.

Corporate charter schools, corporate-provided standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, the full embracing of just about any digital “innovation” that promises to make education less expensive and less dependent on actual teachers, and the wholesale acceptance of “reforms” proposed by ideologically-driven foundations as if they are non-partisan non-governmental agencies committed to the public good—all of these things have been at the core of Arne Duncan’s agenda as Secretary of Education and, to all appearances, accepted unquestioningly by the president.

So, I think that it is a very fair question to ask how things would have been substantively different if the Obama administration had taken office if No Child Left Behind had never been passed.

Consider these statistics from the November 9 issue of Time:

“112: Number of standardized tests the average student takes from preschool to 12th grade—about eight per year—according to a recent report on testing in the country’s big-city schools.”

Now consider this item distributed this morning in The Teacher’s Edition newsletter from the Department of Education:

“Compared to Other Countries, U.S. Kids Aren’t Overtested”

“Andreas Schleicher, a director with the OECD, says there is a myth that kids in the U.S. take more tests than those in other countries. He writes: ‘34% of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they take a standardized test at least once a month, 21% of students in Israel said so, and on average across OECD countries 8% of students so reported. In the United States, only 2% of students said they took standardized tests at least once a month. By the way, that turns out to be exactly the same share as in Finland.’”

Progressives often complain, as I have in other posts to this blog, that those on the Far Right criticize President Obama all out of proportion to any differences in policy that they themselves would actually propose or pursue.

Likewise, progressives often complain, as I have in other posts to this blog, that there is a reflexive pursuit of “balance” in the media that creates many false equivalencies between the political parties and the political extremes in this country.

That said, Arne Duncan’s criticism of No Child Left Behind seems to me to be an empty criticism with much more political than substantive purpose.

Since he announced that his resignation as Secretary of Education, there has been speculation that Duncan’s political ambitions may include running to succeed Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago. If Chicagoans are truly that politically uninformed, then they deserve what they get.



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