Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN….What an infuriating article on the No Child Left Behind Act in the Washington Post tonight. The question is whether NCLB’s requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 is achievable, and the answer, as almost everyone in the article acknowledges, is no. 100% isn’t achievable for anything. Everyone knows that. Nonetheless, here’s a sampling of Republican bloviating on the subject:

“We need to stay the course,” U.S. Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon said. “The mission is doable, and we don’t need to back off that right now.”

….Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary and supporter of the law, said Americans don’t want politicians to lower standards.

“Are we going to rewrite the Declaration of Independence and say only 85 percent of men are created equal?” Alexander asked. “Most of our politics in America is about the disappointment of not meeting the high goals we set for ourselves.”

….Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House education committee, said the 2014 deadline forces educators to pay attention to each student. He said he is open to slight changes in the law to exempt certain students with disabilities from the proficiency requirement. But he said he won’t back down from the law’s core ideal, citing his own six children and 28 grandchildren. “Which one of them would I like to leave behind?” McKeon asked.

Question: Why would NCLB mandate an obviously unmeetable standard? And now that it’s up for renewal, why would Republicans continue to insist on that obviously unmeetable standard?

Answer: Because the 100% goal isn’t just rhetorical. It comes with penalties. If you don’t meet the standard, you lose money, you’re officially deemed a “failing school,” and your students are eligible to transfer to other schools. And needless to say, by 2014 there won’t be any satisfactory public schools to send them to because 99% of them won’t have met the standard.

Followup bonus question: What incentive does anyone have to label 99% of America’s public schools as failures? That’s crazy, isn’t it?

Answer: Anyone who wants the public to believe that public schools are failures. This would primarily consist of conservatives who want to break teachers unions and evangelicals who want to build political momentum for private school vouchers. The whole point of NCLB for these people is to make sure that as many public schools as possible are officially deemed failures.

I’m happy to entertain alternative answers. But I’ve asked this question before and I’ve never heard any good ones.