Big Brother, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top

The defederalization of American public education is a top priority; ten years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now Race to the Top (RttT) demonstrate the abject failure of the federal foray into usurping state and municipal education reform responsibility, authority, and rights. It has been nearly 30 years since the economic elite launched their policy efforts to degrade public schools and the Nation remains at Risk; the proffered corporate solutions are dehumanizing urban schools. Unfortunately, urban educators waiting for their very own educational superman have been disappointed thus far by the actions of the Obama administration. We expected relief and meaningful change but have been assailed by the administration’s tacit support of NCLB; many of us were also blindsided by RttT’s massive push for charter schools and the lockstep advancement of Common Core Standards.

NCLB and RttT are only the most recent examples of educational policies couched in progressive language that function as a political spectacle masquerading as policy benefiting the least powerful actors in society while cloaking an agenda to shame, marketize, and privatize public schools. The implementation of NCLB and RttT certainly have facilitated numerous marriages between districts and corporations; charter schools, test publishers, educational consultant companies, and textbook companies have flourished but little has been done to improve the state of urban public schools.

Recently Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has spoken at length about the deleterious effects of NCLB, but instead of urging its repeal he has merely urged Congress to substantially revamp and reauthorize ESEA; Duncan has also hinted that he may consider granting more waivers to schools and districts in the interim. What remains a mystery is just how Congress can go about refashioning a machine gun like NCLB into a bubble blower without completely melting it down and starting anew.

Granting blanket regulatory relief would be nothing less than merciful as we continue in this protracted 4 year purgatory while Congress wrangles over ESEA reauthorization. According to NCLB mandates, every child must score proficient in reading and math by 2013 – as we inch closer and closer to the absurd 2013-2014 deadline for absolute proficiency, it may behoove the USDE to avoid making America even more of an international laughingstock by rescinding that ridiculous requirement.

However, waivers and empathy won’t be enough to repair the damage. Congress needs to admit a grave mistake has been made and the only way to do that is to repeal NCLB and end RttT. It will take some courage to stand up for what is just instead of maintaining the status quo of corporate mergers and dinner-table business partnerships that have flowed out of DC since NCLB implementation began - those with courage and political influence outside of corporate lobbyists need to stand up for American education now.

There is so much that Congress is actually authorized and constitutionally designed to do that would go a long ways towards improving American public education. Instead of focusing on taking control of curricular decisions from local school districts and state governments and facilitating and promoting the privatization of public schools, the federal government might do better to focus on making policies that address the issues of economic inequity and poverty. Surely children who eat nutritional meals, have access to health care, and get a good night’s sleep in homes located in safe neighborhoods will better equipped to climb the heights of a world-class education. It’s almost certain that parents who have jobs that not only provide stable employment but a living wage along with access to parenting education and resources will be all the more excited to devote a little extra time to support learning as a family unit.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ve suffered under a decade of NCLB. It’s time to move forward, leave NCLB and RttT behind, and return decisions about schools and educational accountability to States, communities, and educators.

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